Barnaby Peacocke, one of my colleagues, is just back from Sudan and gave an update at our ‘stand up’, staff meeting yesterday.
The fighting along the border between Sudan and Southern Sudan continues. This is impacting our work in the Blue Nile and the EU funded project is temporarily on hold. The likelihood is that this state of armed unrest will sadly continue.
We need to work out how in this new reality our work can continue. Our commitment is undiminished.
Listening to Barney I felt particularly moved as when I visited the Blue Nile area, two years ago now, people were talking about their hope following the end of the conflict with the South, they talked of the impact of the war, how some had been forced to fight, others had lost family members, all had struggled to get food, vital medicine, etc. Life had been very, very tough but now there was the hope of a better life and they were ambitious for peace and development.
Now things have changed and we have to continue, increase our work but do things differently.
Thankfully we have a ‘model’, ie.development speak for experience that shows us how it can be done.
In Darfur we’ve worked throughout the conflict; improving peoples farming techniques and yields, access to and quality of water, improving stoves so that they used less fuel – requiring women to make fewer dangerous journeys in search of wood or other fuel, helped people market their crops so that they had money for vital items such as medicine, helped communities preserve foods through techniques such as pickling etc.
After the kidnap of several of our staff and the attempted kidnap of others (thankfully eventually everyone was freed safely, but scared and their vehicles stolen or burned), we decided we had to find a different way of working. All our staff are local and so know the situation in detail – where ever it was reasonable safe for us and the communities we would continue our work directly (sometimes this changed day by day). Where it wasn’t safe for Practical Action people to travel or community gatherings could attract violence we worked with a brave group of people who so valued Practical Actions support they were willing to take extraordinary action.
Village Development Committees and the Women’s Development Associations. Networks we helped established to expand and continue our work. From each village one or two people travelling together, often using unusual paths or routes could get safely through to places no-one else could.
How it worked was that people from these groups would travel to a safe point, coming together they would meet with Practical Action staff. They would be trained in stove making, learn how to grow a new crop, receive seeds, be trained in water conservation, or other support. Help that on a day to day basis would improve their and their communities lives. They would then travel back to their villages and share their learning and/or support with their family, friends and community. Through these networks we were able to continue our work, throughout the conflict, even in some of the most difficult to reach parts of Darfur.
We worked with hugely courageous, brave people in Darfur – speaking to them when I visited their villages I was moved particularly the bravery of the women.
Having met the communities we’ve been working with in the Blue Nile, I believe we will find brave people there, too.
The conflict in the Blue Nile is dire and needs to be stopped. But, if as news reports say, it’s likely to continue for at least the next two years – we have to do all we can to help people caught up in this continue to build their lives.
Our commitment remains undiminished.
Im sorry for the ramble – Ive just dashed this off – but I didnt want to forget how moved I was by Barneys words thinking about the people I met and shared with in Sudan.