Fresh off Fourth of July weekend, I'm now ready to celebrate the independence of another country: that of the new South Sudan. On July 9, the nation will formally declare its independence. As soon as a week later, South Sudan will become the 193rd member of the United Nations.
Our project manger in Sudan, Harun Matuma, e-mailed to tell us people are so excited there that many have made the new national anthem their cellphone ringtone! This made me think, can a ringtone help unite a country?
On days like July 4, we here in America unite around patriotic songs, the Flag and the Pledge of Allegiance. As July 9 approaches, it seems that people in South Sudan are uniting around their own flag and their own national anthem.
In the US, touchstones like the Flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the National Anthem bind us together. That's not always easy to do, as we're a diverse bunch. For example, my neighbors from El Salvador, Bolivia, and India – they all participated in last weekend's July 4 festivities. They were lighting off fireworks, going to the parade and celebrating their adopted country's freedom.
South Sudan is also a diverse nation in need of touchstones that can help people come together as one. Since 2005, Five Talents has been a part of this "coming together," engaging clans and tribes at the grassroots level. Our 69 savings and loan associations are comprised of more than 1,000 men and women spread across about 50 communities in Renk, Lainya, Juba, Wau and Malakal. These areas include many different ethnic clans -- some of which have been fighting for years.
One of the most difficult areas to work is Malakal. Our director of program, Suzanne Schultz, met with members of the Malakal associations in the capital of Juba earlier this year. These people had reached out to strangers and invited them to participate in our literacy and financial education training sessions.
"[These group members] met people in rural communities where they hadn't mixed with a different clan or different tribe before," Suzanne told me when she got back. "They met people who were hurt and killed [in the recent violence], and it changed everything [about their relationships]."
Suzanne's story is an example of the unification that needs to happen on a large scale if South Sudan is to flourish as a nation. Groups of people who at one time were fighting or avoiding each other must now grab-hold of the hand of their neighbor and work together to build a new nation.
The success of this unification will, of course, require more than a ringtone, more than organizations like Five Talents. It will take God's blessing.
Fortunately, the people of this brand new nation seem to recognize this truth. Here are the words to the tune that is played every time a proud new citizen's phone rings in South Sudan:
We praise and glorify you
For your grace on South Sudan
Land of great abundance
Uphold us united in peace and harmony.
Arise! Raise your flag with the guiding star
And sing songs of freedom with joy,
For justice, liberty and prosperity
Shall forever more reign.
Oh great patriots!
Let us stand up in silence and respect
Saluting our martyrs whose blood
Cemented our national foundation,
We vow to protect our nation.
God bless South Sudan.