Marina Berney, Australian therapist, who came as a volunteer to give a training course.
"Sudan is my country of heart, for my grandparents were living in Khartoum and as a child, I used to find there a warm and joyful environment, where I felt safe. These intimate feelings turned out to be at the opposite of what have been undergoing the inhabitants of this country (today divided in two) since decades of civil war!
From the tarmac on which was set up a small tent dedicated to Ebola testing, to the comings and goings between the various airport counters, which seriously check if you are allowed to enter and apply a lot of pads, to the squeaking carousel conveying a few suitcases, the come-down in the reality of the country was pretty fast.
During the first trip from the airport, the joy of returning to this country was mingled with a mixture of helplessness and discouragement: so many evidences of the huge need of rebuilding the country after years of conflict, and the challenges that seem impossible to meet! Yet people like Betram - the local project coordinator - will demonstrate to me, day after day, that "there is no such word as can’t", and that there are some giants of patience, perseverance and dedication, who make it possible to achieve projects that gradually improve daily life.
The very day of my arrival, I was taken to Rajaf for a big celebration for the centenary of the Catholic Church in the country. Dances, songs, colourful clothes, sunshine, smiles and happiness, and a hell of an organisation to feed hundreds of people: enough to be a break from one’s usual habits… and to be a little out of step after 35 hours of travel!
It was nice to see how Patrick Bittar, the director of ASASE, was welcomed with kindness and respect wherever he went.
Moreover, the next day, at the Sunday Mass at Saint Tereza, the Cathedral of Juba, I was very happy to be with him, because we had been kept royal squares, while the church was packed and many had come there well in advance, to attend a mass that would last almost three hours (due to the reception of a bishop from another state, as part of the centenary)! There were even believers who attended the Mass from the outside. I had the opportunity to attend my first mass enlivened by ululations and where dancers in traditional clothes made the bracelets on their ankles click. It was quite surprising in a church! And with the acoustics of the place, it was resonating! What energy!
In my sessions as a therapist in Sydney, I use on a daily basis a very simple and effective acupressure technique (Qi Touch Healing) which is very easy to learn. It is to teach this technique that I came in Juba. I was excited to be able to offer a therapeutic tool requiring no equipment other than both hands, and yet allowing to sooth the nervous system and any anxiety, to bring more tonicity to the organs, to release intense emotions, and to soften post-traumatic reactions. I took a great deal of pleasure spending five half-days with about twenty motivated trainees who were eager to learn and showed confidence in an unfamiliar practice. The teaching was just a little complicated by the need for simultaneous translation into Arabic. The atmosphere was very pleasant. Interaction between men and women was easy, kind and simple, without coyness when it came to touching each other as the technique requires it, but always with a lot of respect. The vast majority of participants had a much more precise awareness of their bodies than what I observed while teaching in Europe or Australia. One thing particularly moved me. All the points that the trainees learned to spot on the body have names and symbolic meaning, and they were regularly repeated in chorus. I still have in the ear the particularly intense sound level and the vibration that animated the room when we got to a specific spot, that everyone without exception remembered from the beginning of the training, and which naming was pronounced at the unison: "PEACE!"
Throughout my stay, it became clear to me that Patrick Bittar's annual visit played an important role for the association's employees. It's a time when they can show what they do, express themselves, confide in someone somewhat external, and have their achievements highlighted. Patrick knows how to value everyone with kindness and a lot of sweetness. Acknowledging the work done helps to maintain motivation.
The guest house is very well designed. Simple and comfortable, it is a haven of peace where you can recharge your batteries. The adjacent school allows to benefit from the very frequent songs of the schoolchildren, which alternate with the cooing of the turtle-doves.
The strongest sharing times for me were lived in the Be In Hope home for ex-street boys. The road to Rajaf was long and tiring at the end of the rainy season. This remoteness from Juba keeps boys away from the temptations of the street and their possible old bad habits
During the first visit, on the day of my arrival, after the centenary celebration, Patrick showed a film he had made during his visit the previous year. These included interviews with the ten new boys who were welcomed in January 2018. The film was broadcast on one of the three new PCs funded by ASASE this year. The volume of sound, without speakers, being limited, the painful testimonies of the boys’ lives before they were welcomed into the home were not quite perceptible, and the atmosphere was very joyful: the boys laughed heartily and made fun of each other when they appeared on the screen.
On another visit the following Saturday, I attended Patrick Bittar's interview with 18-year-old Ajuot, who will soon have to leave the home. We were sitting in the shade of a tree, with a goat attached to it that kept trying to nibble on Patrick's pants! Ajuot told us about his childhood in his village, and the panic that broke out among the inhabitants the day armed men came, shooting everywhere. He related his journey to escape the fightings, and how he ended up in the streets of Juba. He intensely expressed what it meant for him to live in this home, to build fraternal bonds, and especially to go to school. He has clearly shown his thirst for learning and his concern about the prospect of leading his life as an adult. How not to compare with many of our young people who have an easy access to education and who show no motivation to make something of what they received! Patrick kindly listened to Ajuot and helped him see the benefits of attending a training at the Lologo Center to learn a skill and earn a living.
The highlight of this day was the football match in which Betram and Patrick took part. Patrick had brought outfits of the French football team, and the gift was much appreciated! I was sitting under the protection of some eaves and yet already well discommoded by the heat. Seing them running under this harsh sun, at an hour when it would have been legitimate to take a good nap in the shade of the magnificent mango trees that border the Nile, this aroused my admiration !"
Dr Christophe Berger, from Pharmacists Without Boarders, Switzerland.
"Betram stayed all week accommodated in the guest house with me, so we could talk in the evening. And I was often on the compound meeting people, talking with William.
We visited the Saint Vincent Health Care Center in Nyarjwa. William and I went around, we talked to each other. Then we discussed with Betram to see what the NGO's expectations were.
It was a great experience. And what really impressed me was Betram's commitment: here is a person who had several times the opportunity to live his life elsewhere and chose to come back to help his fellow people. I haven't often met committed people like him. And he is transparent: he showed me all the figures.
Normally, PWB only works with volunteers on site. But with the good impression I had on the spot, and with the structure as it exists, we will be able to do a good job. We can't buy the drugs in Europe to send them there. Therefore we will find funds to finance the purchase of medicines, support good practices, secure suppliers, and help pay salaries. We would also like to help develop the First Aid training. I was really impressed by the work done at the Lologo Vocational Training Centre."
Louis-Michel Jausions, from the French NGO Operation Orange of Sister Emmanuelle
"We received a warm and efficient welcome from Betram. He made himself very much available, and we’ve been able to go through all the questions we wanted to discuss (...)
The work done by SVDP Juba is serious and solid indeed. The needs are immense, and there is no doubt that the actions undertaken are meeting some of them. The modalities implemented, both at the Lologo Vocational Training Center and at the Nyarjwa Saint Vincent Health Care Center, are or will be successful. They are real development projects, which we can continue to support.
Betram is fully involved in all these actions. His commitment is not questionable: it is not a job, it is a mission, a life-long commitment."
Deacon Robert Ferrua, from Caritas Monaco
"(…) We had read a lot, seen many photos and films, but we knew that going and visiting was the only way to fully appreciate the situation (…)
We would like to pay tribute to Deacon Kamal Tadros, and praise the work of all the staff of the Association: with dedication and loving care, they help the poorest and most derelict among our Sudanese brothers and sisters.
We also want to express our admiration to the people of Sudan, which we found very dignified, hospitable and hardworking.
There is such a place as hell indeed, and we saw its gates, but the action and the good will of these people half-open the doors of hope.
As far as I'm concerned, I would like to end with a sentence that summarizes my participation in this mission: in a few days, I am going to celebrate the five-years anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate; over these first five years, I have accomplished many missions and actions, but it only during this mission in Sudan that I realized what it means to be a Deacon of the Catholic Church.
Serving the poor, the elder, the unfortunate. Several times, in the eyes of these people, I have crossed those of Jesus..."
Salvatore Ercolano, from the French association Les Amis des Enfants (ADE)
(…) I come back from Sudan always more impressed and admirative of the work that you and your team have undertaken…
(…) be ensured that supporting you and your action is an honour for Muriel and me."
Mady Chanrion, from the French NGO Asmae - Sister Emmanuelle
"The Street Children project has existed for almost 25 years. Many children have become adults. Some have returned to live in the South, where their skills can help in reconstruction. All are employed and earn their living. Those who followed professional training became masons, electricians or tailors. The university graduates are now executives with key positions and are doctors or engineers.
That is the case of Henari, now responsible for the maintenance of the only electric central of Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Taken into care in 1995 on an organization farm, he is taking an electrician's course while continuing his schooling. In 2005, he graduated from university. After working as director of one of the organization's professional training centers, he decided to leave for the South to help in the reconstruction.
Just like Henari, more than 500 children have now completed their studies, thanks to the help of the organization Saint-Vincent de Paul and the support of Asmae. 150 of them are university graduates.
Faced with these tangible results, Asmae is committed more than ever to displaced children, still numerous in the streets of the Sudanese capital. At the dawn of an independent future for South Sudan, it is essential to give the displaced populations of the South the means to reconstruct their future country."
Jean Sage, from the French NGO Operation Orange of Sister Emmanuelle
"(…) We were very happy to see how much the water program had developed in Gabarona: 140 000 litres are supplied every day. The French Embassy has supported the extension of the distribution network around the well, with the installation of three pipes 500 meters long. It is in this area, all around this waterworks, that the famous orange truck is doing its distribution tour six times a day: between 120 and 150 km per day! Although recently repainted, this truck has been running for 15 years, totalizing 800 000 km, which makes its replacement in the near future highly predictable."
Ian Mawdsley, from the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, England and Wales
"Much travelled Michael Palin wrote "Nothing I have ever experienced in my life before could have prepared me for a visit to Sudan".
In the 10 years since then many things have changed but many remain the same. The advent of oil together with peace in the south of the country is showing results. However, the new buildings, roads and bridges in the capital Khartoum, contrast sharply with scenes of abject poverty less than 5 miles away. Hopes that oil revenue will filter down to social services have yet to be realised.
When we met the Operations Manager for Save the Children he reported that they had withdrawn from Darfur after five of their staff had been killed, whilst the CAFOD representative in Khartoum reported that little progress has been made in the south since the ceasefire which was signed 2 years ago. As a result we can only expect that the demand for help from the SVP in Sudan will continue for a considerable time.
(…) whilst the baby feeding, water supply, foster homes and medical programmes are providing for the needs of today, the main thrust of activity is in providing the adult population with skills which will ensure a sustainable future for this and following generations.
It sounds melodramatic to say that this support will affect the future of a nation, but this fact is recognised by other support organisations; they are now asking for the help of the SVP and contributing to the financial cost. This gives testimony to the credibility which has been developed by the SVP in Sudan who are respected by both Church and government.
(…) The stark truth is that there is no evidence that any other organisation is providing such support; if we stop this work there is nothing to replace it.
(…) To visit Sudan and witness the work of the members is awe inspiring. You have to visit to experience the atmosphere, the culture, and the effects of the social and economic troubles which have beset this great country. Huge swathes of the population barely exist but their lives are being made more tolerable by our brothers and sisters. As a result, the visitor is always greeted with huge smiles and a warm welcome.
Kate Bretherton, from the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, England and Wales
"(…) The vocational training centres are particularly impressive because of the variety of skills they develop. Children of 10 years old are taught to mend bicycles; young men and women are trained in electrical skills; older men learn masonry and carpentry; older women develop tailoring skills. There is something for everyone.
There was a great deal that impressed me at the centres but I think what was most evident was that because they are located in the heart of the IDP communities and because they are run by local people, it is through these centres that the SVP can see and react to need as it arises. For example, at one centre a training workshop had been set up to teach people agricultural techniques, including how to use a machine for grinding crops. It soon became clear that if the wider community had access to this machine they would benefit greatly from it and now people come on a daily basis to make use of the facility so that not only can they use the grain for their own families but also sell the excess to generate an income. The Community Development Centres are so-called because they really do offer a holistic service to the local people. The visit brought life to the proverb, "give a man a fish and you have fed him for today; teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime"."
Clare H., from a British company that wished to remain anonymous
« Thank you very much indeed for giving me such a warm welcome and excellent tour of the projects in the Omdurman Camps - your work is first-class carried out by dedicated and committed people.
I have been very impressed and I will recommend that we continue to support your work and hope I can find more supporters for all the help you are endeavouring to give these deprived families and children. »