CRS in Sudan

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Sudan Suffering: 'Not the Will of God'

Catholic Relief Services encourages people to pay attention to the situation in Sudan, where CRS is working to build peace in an often volatile nation. Sudan, the largest country in Africa, is at a crossroads. It could follow a path that leads to the first prolonged period of peace and prosperity in its half-century of independence, or a path back to violence: the kind that killed and displaced millions of people in southern Sudan before. That fighting ended with the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between representatives of the government in Khartoum and southern Sudanese rebel groups. The keystone of the agreement is a referendum, scheduled for January 2011, in which southern Sudanese will vote on whether to remain part of Sudan or to become an independent nation.

A child peers through a gate in the village of Palotaka.

A child peers through a gate in the village of Palotaka, the scene of bombings and armed occupation during southern Sudan's last period of war. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for CRS

As Catholic Relief Services' Sudan advisor, Dan Griffin serves as the primary contact between CRS headquarters in Baltimore and staff on the ground in Sudan. He recently spoke to CRS senior writer Michael Hill.

Michael Hill:
Why pay particular attention to Sudan now?
Dan Griffin:

Decades of war in southern Sudan came to an end in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which laid out a choice for southern Sudanese: Become an independent nation or remain part of a unified Sudan. That agreement calls for a referendum on independence on January 9, 2011.

It is crucial that this vote occurs peacefully and credibly and that its results are respected. If that is the case, the Sudanese people could enjoy the peace and prosperity they have rarely seen in their half-century of independence. If the vote is seriously delayed or flawed, then Sudan could once again be plunged into violence, perhaps bringing much of east Africa with it.

What about Darfur?

Many do not realize that before Darfur came to dominate the headlines, southern and central Sudan were subject to even more widespread violence and man-made disaster. In fighting that lasted for decades—fighting that exacerbated famines among Sudanese as food aid was used as a weapon—more than 2 million people died and another 4 million were driven from their homes. Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese faced dire conditions as they tried to walk to safety in neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya. Some made it to the United States and became known as the "Lost Boys" of Sudan.

How You Can Help the People of Sudan

That is not to say that Darfur is not a tragedy: Since 2003, more than 2 million people have been forced from their homes and at least 300,000 have died in the years of fighting, banditry and deprivation. Hundreds of thousands, many living in camps for the displaced, now depend upon aid to survive. CRS is at work there, feeding more than 500,000 people and providing other essential services.

If the south can get through the next year peacefully—whatever the outcome of the referendum—it will help all of Sudan. If Sudan once again returns to violence, all Sudanese, including those in Darfur, will suffer.

What is CRS doing about the situation in Sudan?
In addition to our many humanitarian aid projects in that country, CRS has committed $4 million to urgent efforts to contribute to a peaceful transformation for Sudan. Much of this will be spent on peacebuilding efforts, and peace is built in many ways.

If people have been fighting over water, it can mean drilling a well. If they were fighting because they were misinformed or misunderstood each other, it can mean education, and getting good information out, sometimes through Church-run radio stations that CRS supports. If people are fighting simply because they don't know or trust each other, it can mean getting them together in community forums to resolve their disputes through traditional peaceful means, instead of fighting over them.

As the referendum approaches, peacebuilding also means helping people understand what the vote means and what they have to do to participate in it. Churches play a crucial role in southern Sudan, as they are often the most stable and trusted institutions in these communities. Much of CRS' work is to support and augment the Church's peacebuilding work.

Children attend the CRS-supported Olikwi Primary School.

Children attend the CRS-supported Olikwi Primary School. A return to war would interrupt or end the of education of many children in southern Sudan. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for CRS

CRS, in partnership with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the assistance of the Catholic community in the United States, is advocating for full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. CRS is also calling for the United States to strengthen its engagement in supporting peace and stability in Sudan while coordinating efforts with the international community.

With such a history of violence and animosity in Sudan, does this work really have a chance of succeeding?

It does. Too many people have given up on Sudan. But the fact is the vast majority of the Sudanese people want to live in peace. We need to help them make that happen. If we work together to support the Sudanese, we could bring peace and prosperity not only to Sudan, but to the entire region.

In their message "A Future Full of Hope," the bishops of Sudan stated:

"This is an historic moment. This is a moment of change. Sudan will never be the same again.

"After centuries of oppression and exploitation, after decades of war and violence which have marked and marred the lives of so many Sudanese in south and north with no respect for human life and dignity, and now, after 5 years of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), we have reached a time to move and prepare for change.

"We believe it is not the will of God for human beings to endure such suffering and oppression, particularly at the hands of fellow human beings, and so we bring a message of hope and encouragement to our people and all people of good will."

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