I have never taken a sabbatical, but decided to this year. My sabbatical is in South Sudan, the world's news country. There were two wars, one from 1955-1973 and the other between 1983-2005. More people were killed by genocide in the two wars than any others since World War II, more than Cambodia and Rwanda combined. Since December of 2013, there has also been a power struggle between the president and former vice president, and much of the world considers South Sudan unstable. Our nonprofit, the GEMS Development Foundation/Goats for the Old Goat, has been operating in South Sudan since 2011. There is much to be done.
The numbers on South Sudan are not encouraging, especially since there has been internal conflict. GEMS/Goats operates in Juba, where we are helping the School of Medicine, and in Northern Bahr El Ghazal, or NBG, where 21 percent of the total population is literate. The most recent survey has 56 students per teacher.
The health and sanitation statistics are scary. In NBG, there is a need for 1,000 water wells. It is not uncommon for a woman (and, yes, women draw the water) to walk one hour to get water and then walk home with the water on her head. Wheelbarrows and hand carts are basically nonexistent. Ninety-six percent of the population does not have a toilet. The maternal mortally rate in the last comprehensive survey (2006) was 2,182 per 100,000 births. That is over 2 percent. Imagine if two out of every 100 mothers died when they went into labor. The CIA Fact Book has South Sudan with the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, and Northern Bahr El Ghazal has the highest of anywhere in the world. That's almost twice the next highest country.
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Now, due to the internal conflict, the problems of the world's newest country have become much worse, with an estimated 1.95 million people internally displaced in the year 2015. That is nearly 20 percent of the entire population of South Sudan. With the rainy season almost here, there is an estimate that 60 percent of the roads will be impassible. The United Nations reported that, because of the conflict, food insecurity has increased and preventable infectious disease will most likely increase. Severe acute malnutrition is expected to double to around 440,000. Most of us trying to lose weight cannot conceive of this possible disaster.
There certainly has been some pushback to "do-gooders" and there is now a well-known book, "When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself," by Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, John Perkins and David Platt. It is a book that examines what groups do to help, especially churches. One of the authors, Dr. Brian Fikkert, is a professor of economics and the founder and president of the Chalmers Center at Covenant College. They make a strong argument that just giving does not help the self-esteem. If there is not a use of the assets of the community, it winds up keeping those in poverty, and that continues a cycle of poverty.
Part of what we do at GEMS/Goats is help people achieve a sense of dignity, raising goats in a community project and allowing people to take care of themselves and their neighbors. We are also teaching medical and nursing students so they will be able to deliver services in their own country. We are educating teachers so they can educate children. One doctor suggests we help the mentally ill living in prisons by training them to care for goats so they can earn a living and care for themselves as well as others in their family.
South Sudan has a long way to go. Many people think, because South Sudan is 171 out of 175 countries in the corruption survey (Transparency International), giving money and resources is a waste of time. Educated populations generally do not put up with government corruption, so the best way to help South Sudan is to give the people a way to self-sufficiency and then provide them with a way to get an education.
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Education is a way to help the world's newest country, South Sudan. It suffered years under a government that wanted to impose Shariah law in a Christian country. Giving South Sudan the gift of learning and learning for health is the best gift that can be given. It will end "when helping hurts."
Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact [email protected].