South Sudan: A slippery journey to prosperity and security
Aimee Ansari, CARE South Sudan's new Country Director, shares her first impressions of her new home country.
It's raining heavily as we trundle down the road from Mabior to Bor in Jonglei state in South Sudan. The road is a track of thick, deep mud. Our car slips and slides through as Akuien, our driver, tries to both control the sideward movement of the car and keep us moving forward. It's about a four-hour journey on a day with no rain; today it will take us five or six hours.
As we slither through the mud, I think that this drive is not unlike the journey that South Sudan is going through - slipping and sliding from the initial euphoria of independence through the hard work of state building, hopefully leading to a prosperous and peaceful nation where everyone lives in dignity and security. Sometimes the country seems as though it is traveling down a muddy road, alternately slipping and sliding into conflict and insecurity and then just barely moving forward, taking all the strength of the leaders who have the vision to see the way forward.
South Sudan is celebrating the second anniversary of independence on July 9. It is the world's newest country and a fascinating place to work - and my colleagues never cease to amaze me with their resilience and innovation in the face of near impossible odds. I have been CARE's country director in South Sudan for less than a month. This is my second visit to one of our program sites - the first was Yida refugee camp near the border between Sudan and South Sudan where more than 70,000 refugees have fled heavy fighting in the north and border areas (but that's a story for another time). In just a few days, I have seen the remarkable work that my colleagues in CARE are doing: working with women and men to create a savings and loan program, supporting good hygiene practices, reinforcing community practices that help people to face and overcome challenges themselves, drilling boreholes to ensure communities have water to drink, and vaccinating children against polio.
|The hero of the day, Akuien standing next to the mud splattered vehicle. We made it to Bor the following day, taking 7 hours to get there. We got stuck in the mud and had to be towed out twice. Akuien had driven for 13 hours in very difficult conditions over a two day period. (Credit: Aimee Ansari, CARE)|
Great success: CARE's savings program
I am inspired by a community organizer, Abraham Arok, who introduces me to three of the village savings and loan associations (VSLAs). The team here has started 53 groups. The first one was very hard to start - it was really difficult to convince any community that such a plan could work and that it would help them receive an income. The initial hesitation has stopped: a year after starting the first group, Arok tells me that he is inundated with requests to form new ones. People have seen what their neighbors have been able to gain and now all want the training. (You can read more about CARE's VSLA model here.) They have seen how their money can “grow’Â by saving small amounts every week; it's close to the local sanduksanduk system; a local weekly savings plan, but better. And they all want in. The villagers ask me to please send more people to help them learn this system. And so, if I ever get out of this mud and back to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, I will ask donors for funds to do so.
But for now, the rain continues and Akuien stops the car to put it into four-wheel drive, low gear - the driving is very difficult here. After another hour of slow moving, I see a couple of cars in front of us; they are stopping and turning around. One races past us. The next one stops. The Health Director of Twic East County, whom I met yesterday, is in the car and they were going down the road to deliver much needed mosquito nets to women with small children. Through the driving rain we ask him why he is turning back. He responds that there is a conflict between two tribes on the road ahead - cattle raiding - and we need to turn around. Ahead, it is dangerous; shots have been fired and we will need to return in convoy and radio our security managers so they can monitor our progress and alert the UN peacekeepers if we don't call in regularly. The villagers all around us are fleeing into the bush; women carrying small children and running as fast as they can through the mud and the rain. They need to get away from their houses to avoid being attacked, but they don't want to go too far for fear that they'll lose everything.
The hard work of state building South Sudan is constantly on the brink of losing everything the people have fought so hard for. The hard work of state building has only just begun in South Sudan. While the fight for independence is over, sometimes all I can see are internal and cross-border conflicts that rumble on, threatening to mire the people in conflict yet again. And then sometimes I meet people like those in the VSLA who can see a future for their families and struggle against all odds to drive the country forward. These are the people that we need to support - all of us in our own small ways. Whether it is done through ensuring that our governments support good programs, by giving money ourselves or by volunteering our time.
I know that I will get tired and frustrated and probably angry in the course of my time here. But, if it means that just one child gets a better education or one woman is empowered, then I'll have done what I came for - to contribute to building this hopeful country.