In Southern Sudan, UMCOR Helps Build an Infrastructure of Peace
By Juliet Stein*
The Integrated Community-based Education Initiatives that the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is implementing in Southern Sudan not only provide needed health and education infrastructure but foster peace and development in a land long torn by war.
Funded through the Basic Services Fund (BSF) of the Government of Southern Sudan, the project, which UMCOR began in May 2009, was so successful in its first phase that it was extended—via a $2 million grant from the Fund—through December 2011. The next phase of the project will cover a larger geographic area within the distressed state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, located along the conflictive boarder with Sudan to the north.
BSF is an international fund set up to help the Government of Southern Sudan expand education, health, and water and sanitation services in communities recovering from war. The Department for International Development (DFID), of the United Kingdom (DFID), is a major donor to BSF, along with the Swedish, Dutch, Canadian, and Norwegian governments, and the European Union.
The project was designed and is being implemented in the context of a fragile peace accord between the Government of the Republic of the Sudan, in the north, and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLM/SPLA), in the south.
Although the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in January 2005 ended two decades of war in Sudan and set the date for a referendum, next month, on southern autonomy, the Government of Southern Sudan faces many challenges as it seeks to move toward a peaceful future.
Weak institutions of governance, the absence of virtually any infrastructure, and a dearth of trained personnel compound the government’s inability to meet the overwhelming challenges of rebuilding after decades of violence and constrain both growth and access to basic social services.
In particular, Aweil North and Aweil South, counties in Northern Bahr el Ghazal where the UMCOR project is being developed, are characterized by especially poor infrastructure, few schools, an inadequate supply of safe water, poor sanitation coverage, and poor hygiene practices, among other critical factors.
UMCOR’s “bottom-up” approach to the project ensures its activities address the most pressing needs that communities identify: primary education, water and sanitation, and the training of government counterparts, and further ensures equity in the distribution of resources.
UMCOR’s targeting of hard-to-reach rural villages and its close coordination with local government authorities in the development of the initiatives have yielded an enhanced spirit of ownership of the project and the assurance of continuity in the supervision and maintenance of new structures.
Phase One Achievements
The success of the first phase of the project is measured in significant achievements.
A block of four classrooms was built, and parents rushed to enroll their children in the school. Some 730 new pupils were registered, which exceeded the enrollment target by 50 percent. Three hundred school uniforms were provided to girl students, who are often overlooked when it comes to education.
The project established and trained a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and also distributed school kits and health kits to nearly 4,000 students in 10 schools. The school kits were particularly valuable, as more than 90 percent of students lack scholastic materials, which parents cannot afford to purchase.
Within the water and sanitation component of the project, 10 boreholes were drilled and safe drinking water supplied to the school and surrounding communities. Latrines were built around the new classrooms and at a secondary school in the village of Malek Alel.
The project also trained 27 local hygiene promoters to provide hygiene education to their communities.
With regard to capacity-building programs for government authorities at the county and state levels, UMCOR provided workshops for various entities, including Payam Development Committee; the State Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology; and the State Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation.
UMCOR’s capacity-building initiatives were aimed at strengthening the government’s ability to provide and supervise the provision of basic services at the grassroots level.
Phase Two Directions
The second phase of the Integrated Community-based Education Initiatives, which began in July and will continue through December 2011, is even more ambitious. It will undertake construction of classrooms at five schools, equip 48 classrooms with desks, and distribute 2,000 school uniforms to girl students.
Forty teachers will benefit from English-language studies, and PTAs will be trained at five schools.
An additional eight boreholes will be drilled, providing water for both school and community use. Training will be provided for pump attendants and water and sanitation committees. Hygiene training and promotion will continue to be provided to volunteers.
Phase Two will also extend capacity-building training for government education officials.
*Juliet Stein is the grants coordinator in UMCOR’s Sudan Mission.