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South Sudan recently celebrated its first birthday as a new nation, but many of its citizens reside far from their homes, struggling to carve out a living in displacement camps. Here, we talk with agricultural consultant Robin Denney, who worked with the Episcopal Church of Sudan from 2008-2011 to help community leaders and displaced farmers – some of them micro-entrepreneurs – make the most of the limited resources around them. Please check back next week for Part 2 of our conversation.
Sudan has a long history of violence. There's the civil war, of course, which led to South Sudan declaring its independence. There's also tribal violence and the presence of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). How much displacement did you see during your time in South Sudan?
I saw a lot of it because I travelled to 25 of the 26 dioceses when I was in South Sudan. In most dioceses, there was a displacement camp that we visited. The bishops would always take us there. Most of the displacement that I saw was due to the LRA activities in Western Equatoria. And the amount of people they displaced was really amazing – 400,000 since 2008.
Can you explain how displacement happens in the case of the LRA?
The LRA is a terrorist organization. They don't just exist for their own profit or some political goal; they are trying to terrorize and displace as many people as possible. So all of their attacks are designed to cause maximum impact. They attack before harvest and drive people off of their farms so they can't harvest. They burn the stores of food so that after people flee from their houses they can't go back and get their food. They [either] take it for themselves or destroy it. In [the southwestern town of] Ezo, the farmers who had managed to plant something before they fled tried to go back to harvest those crops. The LRA knew it was harvest time, so they were lurking in the area. And all they had to do was kill one person who had gone to collect their crops and then everyone knew that it was not safe – and that they had to abandon their crops. (In the photo: A boy plays in an Ezo UN Refugee camp for displaced Congolese people fleeing the LRA.)
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We've been doing a little experiment over on our Facebook page, and now we want to up the ante.
Every week, we are posting a Facebook poll question that places you, our friend and supporter, into a fictional role.
This week, we're asking you to step into the shoes of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and make a white-knuckled policy decision.
Previously, we invited our Facebook friends to vote on how they would spend the weekend if they lived in rural Peru.
The goal of this new tradition is two-fold: One, we want to help our friends and supporters learn a little more about the countries where we work. And two, we want to generate more buzz about Five Talents within our fans' existing Facebook networks.
You can help us by simply taking a minute and responding to the weekly poll.
We'll give two lucky people who participate between now and the end of August a snazzy Five Talents polo. Participate once and your name is in the hat. It's that easy!
Of course, we hope you'll want to chime in with an answer every week.
We'll do our best to keep things interesting!
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Today, South Sudan is celebrating its first birthday as an independent nation after a decades-long civil war with Sudan.
However, as anyone who lives there will tell you, there's a lot more to do before the nation can truly celebrate.
For some perspective on the ongoing challenges facing South Sudan, check out James Copnall's new piece in the Guardian: "Insecurity, a violent divorce with Sudan, rampant corruption and a debilitating economic crisis are underlining the difficulties of constructing a state," writes Copnall.
Five Talents' micro-enterprise development work in South Sudan is playing a crucial role as the nation struggles to come into its own. Alongside partners World Concern, Mothers' Union and the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Five Talents is contributing to adult literacy programs (like the one above), setting up savings and loan groups, and providing business skills training.
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Every so often, we highlight interesting articles and books that touch upon microfinance, poverty or international development. Today's list includes some back-and-forth involving one of America's top newspaper columnists and a new book about one man's experiences in the microfinance industry:
- Over at The Atlantic, Max Fisher has collected a rare public back-and-forth between The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Ugandan writer-entrepreneur Teddy Ruge about the media's coverage of Africa. It all began when Ruge responded to a Kristof tweet promoting a column on the "Rise of Africa". Ruge wrote: "... @NickKristof wakes to the idea that Africa is Rising. Hey Nick, I've been writing that line for 5 years now." Kristof then fired back: "Then I beat you to it: I wrote my first 'Africa is rising' piece in 1997." Click here to read the rest of their exchange, in which Ruge states that if Kristof "did nothing but write about Africa is Rising from now on, it'd take u decades to reverse damage u've done to our image." Ouch.
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We were recently asked by a foundation to give an example of how our program in Malakal, South Sudan, has drawn people closer to Jesus Christ.
Five Talents' clients can have any or no religious background. We do not discriminate in who can access our services. But our organization's values are founded in the Christian faith, emphasizing integrity, good stewardship and service to the poor. And our savings and microcredit programs are usually linked to a local Anglican church as a means of reaching the poor in the community and providing local accountability. (For more on this topic, please read our FAQs.)
Because of our core values and partnership with the local church, our clients often see glimpses of Christ's love as it is lived out by the believers with whom they come into contact.
Our program director, Suzanne Schultz, responded to the foundation's question by telling the following story from South Sudan. We're sharing it here in full, so that you can understand the cultural and social context:
The most significant example of drawing people closer to Jesus Christ comes from a cattle camp in Malakal. In order to understand the poignancy of this event, we need to describe a cattle camp.
In this area of South Sudan, families traditionally keep a permanent home in a small village-like setting and grow some crops nearby. But wealth and status is measured by the size of the herd of cattle a family owns, and they keep their cattle on the plains, in cattle camps. In order to protect the animals from predators and cattle raiders, herders band together to form a cattle camp, sometimes with hundreds of animals. They carry spears and guns to protect their animals. The camps are rough temporary settlements: full of dust, and teeming with cattle, dung, and insects.
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Remember back when you were just 5 or 6 years old and you stowed your spare change in a piggy bank or a jar?
What happened when you really wanted to buy something – a pack of baseball cards, a new doll, or an ice cream sundae?
More than likely, you spun off the lid to the jar, or popped out the rubber stopper on the bottom of the ceramic piggy, and transferred the money to your pocket – and then into the hand of a sales clerk.
Did you know that the poor in developing countries face a similar temptation?
They might put a little bit of money away when all of their monthly expenses have been paid, but then a family member gets sick, or a child needs money for a school uniform, and suddenly they find themselves unscrewing the cap on the jar and giving away their savings.
Roda, a 55-year-old woman in Sudan who sells vegetables in a market, said as much in a recent interview with our partner, Mothers' Union.
"I used to keep my [savings] in something called 'korok', a container made out of tin with a small hole for entering the money, so when I ran out of money, I could easily open it."
She joined one of Five Talents' savings groups in August of 2011 and, ever since, has been building up a reservoir of funds that no one can touch – especially not herself.
"The system of saving is a good one. We all have got to trust each other because the keys are with different people, even the box," Roda said. "Our bylaws [state] that the box will be opened after one year, and I have planned that when I get mine, I will build a small shop for selling my items instead of selling from a table and it will save me from carrying the items home and to the market."
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We're celebrating the 101st International Women's Day by sharing some of our favorite quotations from women who have been touched by our programs in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Five Talents and its partners support micro-entrepreneurs with loan capital, savings group formation, business training, spiritual development, and, in some cases, literacy education, health care opportunities and micro-insurance.
The results speak for themselves: Women begin to recognize their God-given abilities. They gain confidence and start participating more actively in family affairs. They form lasting friendships with other women and draw support from this fellowship. Their earned income can be used towards putting children through school. And over time, what they learn is passed down to the next generation.
Every woman has a unique story, but as you read their words, you will hear a familiar refrain of hope, confidence, faith and joy. Click the link beside each quotation to read the woman's story:
"There were days when I wanted to leave everything and run away, but God who is almighty gave me strength to keep going. Today, I am the mother and the father of my children, and we are doing well."
-Gloria in Peru
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If you've ever traveled to a developing country to provide aid or relief, you know that life in the local community you are serving can be complicated by all sorts of factors – drought, violence, pestilence, government bureacracy.
Your goal may be to provide food, clean water, mosquito nets, or – in our case – loan capital, business training, literacy and spiritual development opportunities, but making a measurable and sustainable difference requires more than just good intentions.
You need to have, among other things, relationships in each community – as well as sensitivity to all of the forces that have put that child with a Mickey Mouse T-shirt, or that mom with a missing limb, in your path.
This is one of the reasons Five Talents partners with local organizations and dioceses in the 11 countries that host our programs. From our offices in the US and UK we can only know so much, no matter how "flat" the world has become.
"You see so many different organizations making decisions about what people need and what is the appropriate way that people and communities need to develop, and then they bring those ideas and try to implement them," said Robin Denney, an agricultural consultant who we interviewed recently about farming in South Sudan.
"They can have a certain amount of success, but there is also some arrogance in that approach. Whereas the Church and women's groups, like the Mothers' Union [a Five Talents partner], are already on the ground doing things because they are the local people. They have that vision and commitment for their community's development because they are the community leaders and the community organizers."