Here’s a meeting I was a part of this afternoon in Wau, Sudan. The participants are all church members and residents of the contested Abyei border region between Sudan and South Sudan, who were displaced in the recent attacks there in May.
The Sudan Development and Relief Agency (SUDRA, the Episcopal Church of Sudan’s development and relief arm) is taking emergency supplies into Abyei this weekend. The meeting was to arrange the logistics for the trip.
You might be asking yourself, “But those attacks were in May – what good is emergency relief now?” Indeed, there was some dissatisfaction expressed in the meeting at the very slow pace of the church. The reason for that slow pace? The money for the supplies comes from international partners – in this case, Episcopal Relief and Development – and getting that money into a country under financial sanctions (as Sudan is) is not easy.
Actually, though, the delay turns out to be something of a blessing. Many of the international NGOs that initially responded are winding down their relief efforts. The church can now target its efforts better and draw them out over a longer period of time when they will still be needed. As one participant in the meeting said today, “The UN is there for three months. We are the church. We are always on the ground!”
The trip is being led by Bishop Abraham Nhial, bishop of the Diocese of Aweil, which also includes Abyei. The relief portion has been coordinated by John Sebit, head of SUDRA. But the real on-the-ground knowledge is coming from the priests and Mothers’ Union leaders who were at the meeting this afternoon and know which families are suffering the worst and – most importantly – where all the refugees have scattered to. Throughout the meeting, I was hugely impressed by the thoughtfulness, diligence, and care with which everyone made decisions about how to spend the money we have.
The head priest in Abyei is Zechariah, a student I studied with at Bishop Gwynne College last September and whom I’ve written about in an earlier post. Last year, I know him as a quiet, hard-working guy. He is the same way now – and also deadly serious and to-the-point about everything. I hadn’t expected to be able to see him on this trip. I’m glad we’ve reconnected, though I wish it were under different circumstances. (His family, by the way, for you readers of the earlier post, is alive and accounted for, though all have been displaced.)
To answer your question, yes, I’m going on this trip. I have checked and re-checked on safety and am as assured as I can be that this is a good idea. More importantly, I know how powerful a message it can send to have even one international visitor show up in a situation like this as a concrete example of what international partnership means. (I don’t represent ERD or any of the donors, of course; it’s more the idea of international partnership I represent than the actual fact.)
I doubt I’ll have solar-powered Internet access in Abyei like I do now – I’m typing this under a mango tree as the sun sets over Wau – so look for more picture and updates on the trip early next week.