South Sudan needs help
October 22, 2012 South Sudan

South Sudan needs help

Although South Sudan is a very young state (founded on 19 July 2011), it is trying to catch up with more developed countries. However, progress has not occurred as quickly as expected. Veronika Jelínková, the program manager for Africa and the Near East, visited the country in September 2012 and tried to find out how Caritas Czech Republic could help assist the country and which sectors could be helped.

Church destroyed by the war.The country is trying to recover using help of some international non-profit organizations including Caritas Czech Republic. One problem is that only a very limited number of things function properly and beyond the reach of resources of the non-profit sector. Veronika talked with the General Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Anna Itwari, about current priorities of the country. The General Secretary stated that: “The most important thing is to let farmers return to their fields and teach them again how to cultivate their land, sell their goods at markets, and not to depend on import from surrounding countries.”

This is a reasonable and clear goal which under normal circumstances would be an ideal project area for any non-profit organization. However, where should one start? We can imagine that we are able to teach local farmers how to cultivate their fields, what they should grow, and we can possibly mediate contacts to markets in larger cities. That said, we have to keep in mind one important factor – there are almost no constructed roads. Asphalt roads are not even completely built in the capital city Juba, and in some regions food packages are still distributed via airdrops. It is, therefore questionable how goods could be transported to markets when there are no roads and how to assure their delivery when farmers lack means of transport. These are just some of many challenges that South Sudan faces at the moment.

Improvement of the overall situation will require effort and coordination of many involved parties, whether they are non-profit organizations or government agencies. The current situation is further complicated by so-called “big donors”. Anna Itwari does not even try to withhold the attitude of the Ministry of Agriculture towards the big donors. They are of course welcome in the country as they bring large amounts of money to partake in development projects. However, their efficacy is questioned by Mrs. Itwari who compared the approaches of Caritas Czech Republic and big donors: “You know, you come to the country and ask me which issues are the most important ones for us and what should be targeted, I appreciate this very much. When the big donors come, they do not ask us and they build things that no one uses. For example, we have now about 50 glasshouses built, they occupy a large area on which farmers could work. However, no one uses the glasshouses as no one knows how.”

School in Torit.Veronika also met the Minister of Education for Eastern Equatoria State, Michael Lopuke Lotyam. Mr. Lotyam listened to the intentions of Caritas Czech Republic, which projects it currently enacts in the country, and how it would like to continue. When Mr Lotyam spoke he summarized what we have already learned from many other sources. “Yes, the priority of our country is at the moment education. We were in war for tens of years, many schools were destroyed and people are not used to going to school and educating themselves anymore. This is also one of the most important challenges that South Sudan faces at the moment. Our people do not have the capacities to be competitive. This is why we need to renew the tradition of education. We need to build accommodation for teachers as they usually have to walk to their schools. Schools are far away and roads are impassable during rainy seasons – teachers cannot access their schools and classes are cancelled. This must change and teachers have to stay next to schools permanently, offering stable education to their pupils.”

During her stay in South Sudan, Veronika met many representatives of governmental institutions, international and local non-profit organizations, and recipients of aid themselves. All agree that the hardest tasks that they face are knowledge and experience of local people. The people of South Sudan have to learn how best to work in their newly established state and live their lives with dignity in a society that is based on democratic values and peace.