The Other Side of Sudan

Hannah Smithies (UK, AC 08-10)


Flying low, we saw elephants in their dozens bathing in the Nile. They say an elephant never forgets, and these were returning home to Sudan after years of civil war. We landed at Kajo Keji in a 5-seater missionary plane that had flown literally on a wing and a prayer. Groups of excited children crowded around to greet us as we got off the plane, feet bare, faces dusty, all beaming – one of the warmest greetings I’ve encountered in my short life.


The war in Sudan started almost as soon as the Brits left in 1956 due to tensions between the Arab, Muslim North and African, generally Christian South. Peace was brokered by the World Council of Churches in 1973 which lasted ten years. Yet war broke out again, the situation not helped by the discovery of oil. This was traded from the North (the Arabs dominate the government) and accusations arose of the wealth not trickling down to the South, which was as poor as ever. The Common Peace Agreement of 2005 means that now most of Sudan is relatively peaceful though there are of course ongoing problems in Darfur.


I was in Southern Sudan with my grandmother, Alison. She helped set up a small charity – Health Care Sudan and had worked for the Sudan Health Association (SUHA) on previous visits. My job over the course of our visit was teaching computer skills at the diocese centre as the Bishop had invited us. He takes an active role in all parts of the community, not just the church. There was a sewing school on site for women to learn a trade and they kept bees to sell honey which brings in a little money.


Alison and our guide in Sudan, Paul, one of the administrators of SUHA, took me round to see some of the clinics. Conditions were good in some clinics, not so good in others. At one, people worked on improvised desks made of cardboard boxes, without filing cabinets, papers in piles around the room, and without the drugs required to treat malaria, a very common disease. There were no doctors except in hospitals. So instead Community Health Workers, (CHWs) have nine months training, and are selected by their community as suitable to work in clinics. Despite drawbacks the CHWs faced they served the community to the best of their ability and to great effect. Small clinics like this ensure that the entire village has access to healthcare and information.


Seeing the terrifying goings-on in Darfur on regular news bulletins, I had been unsure of my expectations of Kajo Keji, but I was surprised. The roads and markets were bustling and bright, the houses were well kept and buildings were going up everywhere. One of my students, Jeska, invited me to her church on Sunday. It was quite an experience. To hear the massive congregation sing so loud and with such joy was wonderful. Only traces of the war still exist: a shattered house, greenery growing out of the ruins of a school, a solitary mosque, untouched, standing derelict.


Paul talked to me in detail about how many lives the civil war had touched and he himself had been taken as a prisoner of war in Juba (the nearest city) and tortured. The horrors that happened on the land which I was now walking were of course still in people’s minds. But as an outsider I had the overwhelming impression that the community was refusing to let the memory of war hold them back. There has been four years of peace.  Refugees and wildlife are returning and there will be a vote next year for the possible partition of Sudan.


The voting comes with its own issues, however. Many people in Southern Sudan to whom I talked expected that the outcome would be in favour of partition and are excited for the possibility of true autonomy. However, if there is partition then it would bring strife for resources, most notably the oil situated on the proposed border. Clashes could spark another outbreak of war.


However, for now I am hopeful for the future of Sudan. Certainly there is a long way to go – the country’s development has been inevitably hindered. But enterprise is slowly taking off in all forms, the economy’s improving and despite a thorny past the people are determined to truly enjoy  life.


– United World College Student Magazine –


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