Monday, April 30, 2007

Davis' Take on the Time in Sudan

Thank you for your prayers—I am safely back from Sudan, and one week later I am working on my fourth draft of this letter…. But how to explain Sudan?

I stood on top of the wreckage of a MIG 23 fighter jet that had been shot down during Sudan’s decades-long civil war. As I surveyed the craft now mutilated as if the object of continual vengeance of every Sudanese boy who walks by, I couldn’t help marveling at the tremendous human effort that went into this machine. I don’t know the details, but I can assume that hundreds of engineers, scientists, and researchers, plus millions of dollars went into building a machine that was designed to kill. Tremendous cost and human effort went into a machine used to shoot Dinka tribesmen, women and children, to drop bombs on villages, hospitals and schools…

During our time in Sudan we heard a lot of stories. Everyone has their own war story from a 22 year conflict that began in 1983 when the Arab-controlled government of Sudan imposed Muslim Sharia Law on the African, Christian South. When the regional southern government was dissolved, several rebel groups began fighting for an independent Sudan. The result was a war of modern weapons being used against African villagers. Elizabeth tells her story of walking with three friends when they decided to rest. Elizabeth decided to leave them briefly to see her uncle. Minutes later Antinov bombers arrived, and while she hid in a hole, her friends died on the open Bor plains. Abraham is a “Lost Boy” who ran from the bombs in the middle of the night. He told of his journey on foot, at night, to Ethiopia hundreds of miles away, only to be attacked in the refugee camp by armored vehicles and driven back into the Sudanese conflict.

So it is into this country that ELI is trying to bring empowerment. We chartered a small plane to bring us in, that was forced to land on an unintended airstrip due to bad weather. No matter, we were warmly welcomed anyway, by people who were not expecting us, and whom we had never met. Shortly after they gave us tea and prepared places for us to sleep, Stephen Reech, the Sudanese ELI director arrived with a flatbed truck to take us “home.” We said our goodbye’s to our new friends, and then spent the next couple hours bumping along a dirt road past innumerable homesteads of returning refugees. Their houses are grass thatched with short 3 foot mud walls. Also in the compound is a luak, a giant grass house made to shelter their cows, the main livelihood of the Dinka Tribe.

The ELI compound has three projects right now, all at various points of construction. First, is an agricultural training center (incomplete) being built to empower people through growing food. This is a difficult task as the Sudanese have not enjoyed enough stability to cultivate for over 20 years. Second, is a home for orphans (one building has walls and roof, not finished). The third is an elementary school—which was my primary interest, and my reason for coming. It is nothing but a roof so far, but it is well-attended by over 120 kids in grade 1-4. Obviously, in a country without infrastructure, education is only recently available, so there are very few children in the upper grades. On the day we counted we found 80 in 1st grade, 26 in 2nd, 12 in 3rd, and 5 in 4th. There are 100 more students enrolled but not present, as they are off caring for the cattle. The students sit in the dirt under the roof of their wall-less school learning numbers, letters, and reading off of the blackboard.

In these conditions I was amazed by the dedication of the teachers—4 high school graduates who all completed their studies in refugee camps outside of Sudan. I spent time talking with them, providing some teacher training, and also teaching in the school. The thermometer read over 120 F when I completed teaching a lesson on factors to 4th grade by dividing piles of rocks in the sand. I was amazed by their desire for education.

I visited 2 other schools during my time in Sudan, and found the conditions the same: unfinished, unfurnished schools, packed to capacity. One school had 70 1st graders in a classroom, and another 70 outside under a tree. The day before I left I was able to go into Bor town with Kiptoo, a Kenyan nurse (Jen’s supervisor at the clinic) where we bought 10 boards—the first furniture for this school.

I could go on and on about Sudan. Maybe if I ever get around to updating my blog I’ll tell about the 2 snakes we killed, the quart of fresh-from-the-cow unpasteurized milk I drank, of swimming with the herds boys in a water hole full of dung and littered with animal carcasses, or of visiting a man in the hospital with an AK-47 bullet wound to the head.

But Sudan was not about adventure, it was about people. I had great hope when I saw my 4th graders performing well on their math using gravel. I felt hopeless in the Bor hospital looking at toddlers whose arms were thinner than 2 of my fingers, whose legs were thinner than 3 of my fingers, but whose eyes were as big as my own daughter’s. I loved the life and energy of the machine-gun-toting men who wanted me to photograph them with their weapons and their tall, long-horned cattle, but I was sad to know that their guns also testify that peace has not come to Sudan as the Darfur genocide rages.

Sudan was incredibly different, yet when I worshiped in a packed church in a foreign language I felt right at home.

It has made me think about some things differently: What’s more valuable: a MIG 23 fighter jet or a 4th grade education? So as ELI explores its goals in Sudan, please pray for God’s wisdom. Please also pray (or act) about the bloodshed that goes on in Darfur.

I will quit there. Thanks again for your prayers. Jen and the girls did fine while I was gone too.

God Bless,

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

AIDS campaign - Thanks for praying!

Thanks so much for your prayers for last Friday's AIDS campaign! We had a wonderful campaign full of many successes including the following:
  • No rain! Lots of sunshine (with no trees to hide under resulting in red faces, necks, and arms for us two white people--Juli and I)!
  • Tons of people--between 6,000 - 7,000
  • Lots of entertainment from many different groups ranging from school children to grandmothers, all singing songs about HIV/AIDS
  • Exciting games including two bicycle races and a challenging football (soccer match) which ended in penalty kicks
  • Collaboration among several organizations working in the area including: ELI, AMPATH, Ministry of Health, Deliverance Church, and the host organization, Agriculture Development Corporation
  • Important messages of hope passed to the crowd from HIV+ individuals, government officials, chiefs, senator of the area, and all organizations involved in the day
  • Testing, testing, testing!!! We had 20 VCT counselors set up in 3 tents who worked very hard all day long in the hot sun. At the end of the day, 748 individuals faced their fears and took courage to be tested and know their HIV status--419 men, 262 women, and 67 unknown (meaning we did not get the exact data of the 67 individuals). 3.5% of those tested were found to be HIV+ and were referred to the nearest AMPATH clinic for further counseling and treatment
  • We have already started planning for our next big campaign, which will be held on Friday, April 20 in the village on Natwana. Thanks for joining us in the fight against HIV/AIDS...replacing fear with hope!
Allison and the entire Tumaini na Afya Team