When conflict displaced more than 1.5 million people in South Sudan, some 70,000 of them sought refuge at an Internally Displaced Persons camp in Awerial County, where they could find people who spoke the same language.
But life in this new community is not always an easy adjustment. Many need food and shelter, and when thousands of people are suddenly dislocated and arrive under strained circumstances it’s easy for conflicts to arise.
A food distribution project by the Sudanese Relief and Development Agency (SUDRA), supported by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), met the basic need for food and also helped provide a place of stability where people could begin to create community.
“The MCC-SUDRA feeding program has restored the hopes of the community, brought a good number of pastors together and increased reconciliation as people meet and interact together,” says Andrew Biar, a supervisor at one of the feeding centres.
The project provided two months of food for 7,539 displaced children under five in Awerial County from mid-February to mid-April. Because food was distributed primarily at church compounds, it encouraged people to join church activities and meet each other.
“The feeding programs provided people with a place to gather and talk, and learn first-hand that in settings marked by common hardships, cross-cultural, religious and linguistic differences can turn out to be no more important than the differences that exist among individual human beings,” says Brendan Tuttle, MCC’s representative for South Sudan and Sudan.
Since conflict in the country erupted again in December 2013, MCC has allocated more than $1.1 million in funding and resources, such as relief kits and canned meat, for displaced South Sudanese people both inside the country and in Kenya and Ethiopia.
In addition to the food distribution in Awerial, MCC is supporting the distribution of food baskets or vouchers to more than 21,000 displaced people in Budi and Mundri Counties in South Sudan through its account at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. MCC is also supporting a project with Lutheran World Federation to provide supplementary food, such as fruit, to children, new and expecting mothers, seniors and people with disabilities or illness in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. And refugees in Gambella, Ethiopia will receive MCC relief, hygiene and school kits as well as blankets and canned meat.
Beyond meeting basic needs, MCC is continuing to support education, peacebuilding and agriculture projects in South Sudan. This includes funding two training sessions on dealing with trauma for 80 women and youth church leaders, and support for a similar program for South Sudanese refugees in Kenya.
And in Sudan, MCC is starting a three-year program providing meals at school for children, some displaced by conflict in South Sudan. The meals increase students’ attendance and ability to focus.
“Emergency relief is necessary,” says Tuttle, “but we have also tried to ensure that our longer-term projects continue and embody the kind of world that we hope to live in — one where discussions about peace, schooling, libraries and farms have a useful place.”