The Solidarity Agricultural Project in Riimenze experienced armed robbery on Oct. 29, 2021. This has shaken the staff and put the projects on hold for nearly two months.
Since 2013, 80 acres have been cleared by hand, in an effort to develop a demonstration farm using appropriate and sustainable technology. The priorities for this project are training of individuals and groups in sustainable methods of agriculture, crop diversity and animal husbandry. Many of the people living in this area of South Sudan were displaced during decades of civil war and have lost their traditional agricultural skills. Annually over 30 tons of nourishing food are produced for use by the people and for sale in the local market. Individual households are assisted to develop their own gardens.
Recently people were offered pigs, goats and chickens to raise; one set of offspring is returned for distribution to other farmers. In some cases, individual farmers have taken up this practice to assist their neighbors. Nearly 900 households have benefited from this initiative; 15 permanent staff are employed and 40-60 casual workers. A food for work program was recently initiated funded, with your help, by Friends in Solidarity.
In addition to the agricultural training project, Solidarity assists the nursery and primary school in Riimenze with salaries for qualified teachers; approximately 100 elderly people, remaining in the camp for displaced persons, are assisted with essential needs and housing; women’s groups have benefitted from nutrition workshops and sewing training.
On the evening of Oct. 29, three armed men broke into the Solidarity staff house and stole all the funding used to pay workers and teachers (there is no bank in the area and cash is kept in the house to pay employees and provide for the elderly poor). The thieves also took all computers, cell phones and other technological devices from the premises. While one staff member was tied up, no one was harmed. However, the lack of resources meant that all the projects came to a halt and were suspended until January 2022. Cash management policies and security arrangements are being reviewed for both Riimenze and the Solidarity Teacher Training College in Yambio, which has similar issues with regard to lack of banking facilities.
Thanks to the generosity of donors to Friends in Solidarity, $23,000 was immediately sent to cover the cost of the food-for-work program and Solidarity staff living expenses. Additional funding was secured from European donors. More funding will be transferred in the new year once areas of greatest need are determined.
Friends in Solidarity was also able to transfer nearly $15,000 for humanitarian needs in the parishes surrounding the Solidarity house in Juba. Many of these are widows, orphans and those with disabilities who have no access to any income to meet their living expenses. Women have been trained to assist with meeting the needs of the poorest of the poor with your help.
Generous donors to Friends in Solidarity also supported food for the teachers attending the in-service teacher training program in Bor, South Sudan. Many of these teachers, including Solidarity trained tutors, have lost everything due to severe flooding in the area during the rainy season. These teachers are in the classroom in the morning and at the in-service program in the afternoon and during holidays trying to achieve certification to continue as qualified teachers. The program is 32 weeks over three years! Such a commitment. Forty-four students graduated in July 2021.
This is the third year in a row that the Nile and its tributaries have flooded the Bor area, and an additional three states. Unusually heavy rains are the cause with no adequate dikes to prevent flooding of communities. Climate change is cited as one cause.
Friends in Solidarity is monitoring the COVID-19 situation in the country. COVID-19 seems to be the least of the problems faced by South Sudanese. The issue of unemployment due to government ordered shutdowns from March to October and again from February to May has left many desperate for food to feed their families. Seventy percent of the country is receiving humanitarian aid due to flooding, displacement due to civil conflict and hunger bordering on famine in some areas. Solidarity, with your help, continued to pay its employees during these times when the institutions were closed.
The coronavirus may yet engulf the country as there seems to be an uptick in reported cases. However, testing is limited, as are vaccines. The U.S. government has sent more than 650,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson to South Sudan through COVAX since September, the most sent to any one country. The lack of ability to set up distribution mechanisms has been an issue, which is gradually being overcome. International non-governmental organizations have, in some cases, stepped up to assist with getting shots into arms.
We are grateful to all those who have supported Friends in Solidarity to respond to these emergency needs during the latter half of 2021. We wish you and all our friends in South Sudan a blessed new year.
Sister Joan Mumuaw, IHM
President and CAO, Friends in Solidarity