Twenty years ago this month, a team of Londoners, including Derek Ruttan and Kelley Teahen from The London Free Press, journeyed to South Sudan for the first time in an effort to combat slavery.
This was done in collaboration with other agencies based on information provided by the United Nations. That trip began the process of people in and around London journeying to the war-torn region every year, fighting slavery, establishing women’s programs, building primary schools and a secondary school where girls were finally included, running clean water initiatives and providing scholarships for girls through Canadian Aid for South Sudan (CASS).
The London Free Press, through reporter Randy Richmond, returned a second time in 2007 to chronicle the developments. That new nation has been a melting pot of conflict, tribal war, hope, reconciliation, death, life, dreams dashed and then built again.
London’s commitment, despite all the struggles, stayed strong and refused to move ahead of the people’s own pace of growth. It was worth the patient wait. The bond remains historic and strong between our two communities, despite the distance and obstacles, as illustrated in the comments below from Londoners who’ve made the trip.
On our 3rd day in Gordhim, my mother and I met with 6 girls from the area. The youngest was my age, and the oldest was 19. They shared with me some stories of their hardships. It was so powerful and overwhelming, but even more so was the time we talked with 3 of the girls near the end of our stay. These girls had become very close to us, and they shared stories so detailed and moving, even though we had not experienced anything close to what they described. It made me wonder why these people trusted us with troubles that we could not even begin to fathom. The answer is this. They did not need us to understand. They needed us to listen, and to then go home and share their stories.
– Hannah, age 14
In the beginning, on the first trip (1999) the overall sadness was all-pervasive but as we witnessed families being reunited joy bubbled to the surface. The horrors of the war between the north and the south and all that entailed, brutal rape, servitude, killing and torture gave way in 2011 to the joy of independence of the south from the north. That was dashed by the tribal civil war that ensued until recently. The South Sudanese endure. They take what is handed to them in life and make the most of it. I’m proud to call them my second family and I know the feeling is mutual.
– Carol Campbell
I was reading a little reflection booklet that summed up for me why I returned to South Sudan this past January. It has to do with “seeing”. The author of this reflection embraced Don Quixote’s principle, “The one who sees is responsible.” The people I met in South Sudan, showed me more than I could every hold. Some was inspiring, and other parts evoked deep sadness and feelings of powerlessness. What I had to come to terms with was I cannot be responsible for everything I saw. I am not able to fix, repair, attend to all that needs to change. But what I did know is that I could not turn away. The people I met are a resilient people, even though they have so little with which to work.
– Joan Atkinson
I took my first trip to South Sudan in 2007. This past January was my 11th trip to what I now call my second home. The people in the village of Gordhim have become my family. When we arrive at the village we are met with singing, dancing, smiles and hugs which continues every day the team is there. Over the years spending time in this remote part of the world with the South Sudanese who face daily challenges continually reminds me the importance of sharing, caring and loving. I share my love of music, I care about their feelings and listen to their concerns, and I love my time with them.
– Denise Pelley
On these missions to southern Sudan; lifelong friendships were formed and personal values were challenged and redefined. Images of dying babies and starving refugees would forever burn a lasting picture in our brain. On the other hand, the sounds of children singing and dancing are the reasons that keep you coming back. The needs can seem daunting and overwhelming but the common desire to make a difference helped us to persist on our mission. One of the many highlights of my CASS involvement has to be the trip when my 12-year-old daughter Jacqueline came with us. That experience has forever changed both our lives.
– Alex Lau
The first thing that struck me and others was the openness of the southern Sudanese. When someone looks at you in Sudan, they look straight into your eyes with no barriers and no agendas. They look into your heart. And they invite you to look into theirs – a true meeting of two people. The experience has helped shape my life every day. I noticed the spontaneous singing that surrounded me. People sang often, and when they sang, they were happy and smiling. These people who lived in such poverty that they didn’t even have a piece of paper, were smiling when they were singing. This made such an impact on me.
– Karen Schuessler
Newer news items:
- South Sudan heightens efforts to increase voluntary blood donation to save lives - 17/06/2019
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- UNHCR welcomes South Sudan’s accession to convention to protect internally displaced people - 15/06/2019
Older news items:
- Reclaiming Azza: A History of Female Resistance in Sudan - 15/06/2019
- Why South Sudan cattle rustlers keep terrorising northern Uganda - 15/06/2019
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