Humanity Helping Sudan: the report
Gambella, the capital of the border region of Ethiopia and South Sudan, is probably one of the most remote places in which we find ourselves on this trip. It will also be one of the most 'contested areas' where In2Afrika is trying to support a project. The war in southern Sudan has it's effect on the life and environment of Gambella. The closer our bus comes to the city, and thus comes closer to the border, the more the cars, signs and buildings of UN, USAID, UNICEF and MSF we see
Gambella is about 80 kilometers east of the South-Sudanese border. 30 kilometers outside Gambella, 50km across the border, are the huge refugee camps filled with people flowing from south Sudan to try to seek shelters. The two main camps, Kule and Tierkede, 40,000 and 52,000 people respectively. There are also a number of smaller camps. The big NGOs try handle this flow of people as much as possible, but the refugees still flock to Gambella town. "We do not suffer from them, they just try to make some money or collect food for their families in the camps. They are Sudanese, but they are exactly the same as the people who live just on the Ethiopian side of the border, "said Tet, living in Gambella town and self-employed as a psycho-social worker in the camps. While he shows pictures of the shelters of the people in the camps, he talks about the terrible things that some refugees have seen, and the psychological support that his NGO gives to the people with war trauma.
Amidst all the misery of war and the heavyweight NGOs, a small organisation is trying to develop the bottom of Gambella's local community. Humanity Helping Sudan, founded by a man who was once part of the "Lost Boys", a group of South Sudanese, displaced from their homes by the war: Manyang Reath Kher. Manyang, who lives in Washington DC and studies here, wants to bring the development of the Gambella region started with his organization. Operating from the US, he has run a team of 3 men strong on-the-ground in Gambella, to implementation the work. Mawut (28), Tut (33) and Tet (28) received us with great enthusiasm and like to talk about the work they do. Even the three guys have a good job, at an agency, as an entrepreneur and as a psychologist.
We soon learn that the opportunities in this part of Ethiopia are there, but they are scarce and the road to success is long. Those who can perform well in high school have access to the university and then can, with some luck find a job that allows them to support a family. Soon, however, we learn that this road is full of pitfalls. "All children who you see walking on the street during the day can not go to school because their parents have no money there for" Mawut notes while we walk around a busy street at 12 a.m., filled with teens. "These children have to work for their families, and therefore almost never get the chance to a good education. For a big part you are tied to your social situation. " Humnity Helping Sudan focuses on that part of the Gambellese population located at the bottom of the social ladder.
Four main projects are the basis of the work of the organization. Firstly HHS has selected a number of young people who may study at the expense of the organization. On our first day we visit the second project, in a suburb of Gambella, where HHS selected the most disadvantaged families and given them a small amount of resources, with which they provide for their livelihood. We appeal to a woman who has gotten some chickens from HHS, so her children can go to school from the proceeds of the eggs. A good initiative, but a little unthoughtfull as well, when we ask this woman some more questions. Because the chickens are not fenced in, they are too often caught by dogs or huntingbirds. Next project is the 'garden'. Humanity Helping Sudan purchased a piece of land for some local farmers, in the fertile bed of the Baro river that crosses Gambella. The organization paid for the lease of the land to the government, and provide the farmers with agricultural tools to cultivate the land. When we are led to the garden by Mawut and Tut, it appears to be a relatively small piece of land, which is also empty at the moment. This because we're now in the middle of the dry season, and the planting season doesn't start until May, at the beginning of the three-month rainy season. When we ask some more questions, the support that HHS gives here is again relatively small. It employs only 5 farmers (with their families) and there ar relatively few tools provided. This in itself is not a problem, but in terms of size, we were given a different impression in advance of the projects. This also goes for the third project, the support of the local fisheries. The Baro River, which runs through Gambella is full of fish and fishery could therefore potentially be an interesting industry. Humanity Helping Sudan has selected a number of less fortunate members of the local population, and they are provided with resources to meet their livelihood through fishing in the Baro River. When we visit the fishermen, it appears they're only a group of seven fishermen, and only four networks have been made available to them. Although the second fisheries project outside Gambella that HHS runs is larger, the support again is not huge in size. In conversation with the fishermen (translated by our friends) they tell us that according to them there is still much room for expansion, but resources aren't there. Again in this project the reality is somewhat different compared to our expectations. In the projects one by one here is much potential, but they are all much more in its infancy then the organization does sometimes occur.
Mawut, Tut and Tet in Gambella, alongside their work, are constantly trying to support the projects of the organization, without them having to gain anything of it. The men are highly motivated to advance their own community. That the reality is much more stubborn than the ideal of social support, is evidenced by the various conversations we have with the men. In Gambella, it all begins with communication. First of all, communication is not exercised optimal because the men have no office that can be used as a meeting room. Meetings now often place at their homes. Moreover, there is no central point where people can come with their needs, questions and tips for Humanity Helping Sudan. Finally, the external communication with the leadership in the USA is a problem. Internet access is scarce in Gambella, and calling America is almost impossible to pay. Another criticism that the men carefully express is that the organization in America almost never visits Gambella, and therefore they can't witness what are the needs and challenges with their own eyes. When the men, however, ask for financial support for the projects, it is very difficult to obtain. The processes within the organization sometimes seem thick and slow, and the men in Gambella have only very limited knowledge of how the foundation in America is organised, who they actually work for on the ground.
There remains something unsatisfying about Humanity Helping Sudan. Founder Manyang seems to have a large following in the US, organizes many events and would therefore have to get a lot of things moving. The men in Gambella in turn are very eager to work hard for the organization. Moreover, with limited resources, there seems to be a lot of difference made. Why these two sides of the HHS organization nevertheless still do not add op as they should, is in our opinion the key question. For In2Afrika this is the next question to be answered in order to support the project well.