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I am bone tired as I have just arrived in Kenya from Southern Sudan.

South Sudan is going to be the world’s 193 country on July 9. The people are proud of their accomplishments. Twenty-two years of war and genocide have produced a country that is free from Khartoum and what was an attempt at Shariah law as well as other ethnic and religious issues before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.

It is said the more involved you are in a situation the less easy it becomes to make clear statements. I would like to think that if you show people some basics of agriculture, it would be simple to take land and work with it, making planting and harvesting easy. But years of tradition have made parts of South Sudan difficult to change.

Christian Solidarity International, the group with which I have been traveling to Sudan for three years, has a mission of returning slaves from the North. Many of the these former slaves (dubbed “returnees” by the international community) have villages to which they may return. Some even have families. Now the challenge is to help them attain self-sufficiency in a country
where people and cattle were taken as spoils of war to the North.

The problem is that since the education facilities were destroyed during the war and most progress stopped, people were not able to learn some basics about essentials such as agriculture. Fortunately, there have been some individual organizations, such as Christian Solidarity International and the U.N. World Food Program, that have tried to create conditions where people can succeed.

But in a land where there is very little literacy (During the war, much of the education took place in refugee camps as education was almost impossible in the war zone.), people in some areas of the country drink water from the red earth where cows tread in the mistaken belief that this water is better than well water put there by the United Nations and NGOs, or Nongovernmental Organizations. Others think that a cow (used as a form of currency) will be harmed by plowing land, so they till the land with their bare hands, using a small instrument instead.

Changing these and other misconceptions is a real challenge to people who have been at war without education or held as slaves in the North where they had no access to accurate information. Those of us who are trying to help with basic needs encounter years of misinformation and the legacy of servitude.

We are lucky in the United States to have access to schools, books and electronic media. It is easy for us to say that people should plant seeds or use a well. Unless we understand the barriers a culture may face, it is hard to understand why progress might be slow and why it takes years to change a culture. Everyone has an opinion as to why people remain hungry. Sometimes the answers are easy to understand. Other times, like in South Sudan, it takes a real understanding of the local culture.

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