Sudan: Small things with great love

From Aaron Stewart

Southern Sudan -- Medair's Aaron Stewart recounts the story of a distribution day in Southern Sudan

Our boat made its way down the river, so loaded with valuable cargo that I found myself sitting atop it, scanning the shoreline as we pressed forward through the waves. Our destination was a village in Melut County in Southern Sudan, where we planned to give our cargo to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who had taken up residence there.

After 21 years of civil war, Sudan has more IDPs than any other country in the world. A staggering four million of its people have been displaced into camps and villages throughout the country, with another half a million having fled Sudan altogether. They were forced to leave their homes because of the perilous combination of violent conflicts and food scarcity. Many left with only the clothes on their backs and the few items they could carry.

It is hard to describe how little these people have. They survive by gathering what they can from the land around them. In this village, they drink water from the Nile that is neither clean nor acceptable for drinking. They usually do not have enough food to meet their nutritional needs, and their meagre household belongings could probably be counted on two hands

To help with their basic needs, Medair planned a distribution of 1,300 IDP kits to some of the most vulnerable families in Melut County. On this day, we were delivering 250 kits to the village, with each kit containing cooking pots, tarps, mosquito nets, utensils, soap, and many more common everyday items -- things which you and I would probably take for granted. But for our beneficiaries, these provisions can dramatically impact their lives and their households, and better equip them to survive their current situation.

As our boat came ashore there was an instant swell of children and adults, eagerly awaiting the sacks of supplies. Within minutes of arrival, the community had unloaded the kits and set up a makeshift distribution site. As names were called and people came forward, there was an excitement in the air, and a feeling of restoration, if only on a small scale.

These villagers had settled in the area with hopes of peace and stability for themselves and their families. Despite their immense hardship, they still were demonstrating hope. The Sudanese are survivors, not people who can be easily knocked down. Instead, they roll with the punches. If I were in their situation, I don't think that I would be as ready to smile as they are, or as hospitable as they were to me and my colleague, preparing us tea with the precious few tea leaves that they had.

In the midst of a country ravaged by war, where the lives of people have been devastated as "collateral damage," it is worth remembering moments like these. As simple as they may seem, our actions can make a world of difference to those affected by this crisis. On this day, we provided 252 households with very basic supplies that nonetheless will greatly improve their lives. It is only through simple acts done by individuals that change will truly happen.

As Mother Teresa said, "We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love."

Medair is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO), with its operational headquarters located in Switzerland. Medair's Relief & Rehabilitation programmes in Southern Sudan have been running since 1992 and are currently supported with the assistance of UNICEF, DFID (British Government), BUZA (Dutch Government), SDC/DDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation), OFDA (US Government) ECHO (European Community) and the United Nations' Common Humanitarian Fund for Sudan.

Elsewhere in Southern Sudan, Medair provides emergency medical and water assistance for outbreaks, large people movements, and nutritional emergencies in a number of locations across the region as well as improving access to primary health care and safe water sources in Upper Nile. In the northern states, Medair provides access to primary health care and water and sanitation for up to 210,000 conflict-affected persons in West Darfur; works with war-displaced people in Khartoum; and supports access to primary health care in the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan.

Medair's life-saving activities are dependent upon private financial support. To contribute to this work, please visit (Southern Sudan section.)