As the CRESS 2016 trip draws to a close I thought I’d share final thoughts and observations as a bit of a roundup.
Having personally seen the developments over the past 3 years the change is immense.
We now have a well-rounded team on the ground covering management, agriculture and enterprise, finance and admin support.
The team also has their own small office with most of the essential equipment needed to run it. Systems and regular reporting are now in place and the financial controls are excellent within the local context.
When we visited the Liwolo Clinic it was encouraging to be asked to wait to see the staff as they were busy administering medical care to the locals. The focus of the team on doing their important work above everything else was impressive.
The pharmacy was well stocked and use of the rooms have been changed to best meet the operational needs of the clinic. There is still a lot to do and the team has a real vision for what the clinic can become – Holby City would look like a school first aid room if all their plans came to life! Essential medical equipment is still required – more of this to follow once we’ve worked out the priorities and budget.
In February when I met the team with Caroline in Kampala the Agriculture Programme was nothing more than some words on paper but due to the hard work and focus of Golda Poni (and recently supported by another bright young individual, Samson) they now have 35 women on the programme with a number of demonstration/ training sites and individually worked plots.
The volume and range of produce we saw being grown and harvested was staggering. Irrigation remains a challenge and the demand for this programme is high and so, together with the team on the CRESS in South Sudan Team, we will need to work out how to provide the required support. The good news is that the programme is generating savings now so, in time, we hope and expect the programme to become self-sustaining.
Of course, the well-established school sponsorship programme continues to work well. Due to the curtailed visit and school term times we unfortunately did not get the chance this time to meet all the children. Having reviewed their academic progress though all would appear well under the circumstances (e.g. secondary school children sent home 3 weeks early due to lack of food)
One of the strange emotions that we feel when in Kajo Keji is one of real peace and tranquillity but edged with a feeling of mild anxiety.
If you can imagine sitting outside a house on a very warm and beautiful day and looking out across thousands of acres of lush green countryside with no pylons, no traffic, no aircraft flying over, no machines, no loud music, no car horns, no police sirens then you have an idea of what it is like, on one level, to be in Kajo Keji. (the noisiest things are the cockerels by the way!)
Even though we are surrounded by all this beauty we also are in a country which is officially the most fragile in the world, where life expectancy is around 42 (W.H.O figures), where recent instabilities have created unrest and civilian deaths and where inflation is running at 300%. This makes South Sudan a really tough place to operate in. Many of the NGOs recently pulled their people out of South Sudan (pleased to report some things are returning to normal) and the cost of food and goods in the markets have become beyond the reach of some of the locals. The team in Kajo Keji are constantly on their guard and having to deal with almost daily changes in the situation. The signing of peace agreements (again..) and some more interest being shown by the UN may go some way to bringing some stability back to the country.
CRESS has always had the philosophy that our work should be based on relationships. The teams here and in South Sudan believe that this approach makes our work together more purposeful and targeted. The difference can be compared to putting money in a box at the check-out compared to taking a meal around to your friend’s house when they aren’t very well. One has a limited emotional investment the other is only about emotional investment. If you are a supporter of CRESS then you are part of this. We wish we could share some of this experience with you in a better way than these blogs but rest assured your contribution makes the emotional investment possible. Thank You!
Coming back again it genuinely feels like a bit of home and the welcome we received was ‘bonkers!’. Each time we visit the conversations we have are deeper and more meaningful. Our experience of working together over the past 6 years has allowed us to build up a deep level of trust with each other. As Caroline says “when I say I will do something I keep my word!” and that is true of the whole CRESS team, whether in the UK or in South Sudan.
Not only are the relationships deeper they are also becoming wider. With more people in the team, more people on the Agricultural Programme and new people visiting from the UK the circle of CRESS continues to widen and doing so touches the lives and hearts of more people both here and in the UK.
Ellen, who has just finished university, (and happens to be my daughter) came with us this year. It was really good to see how all the young adults were getting on so well together, no matter what backgrounds and cultural differences – though it appeared to me that they share more cultural ‘alikenesses’ than differences and share many of the same challenges in becoming effective in our rapidly changing and shrinking world.
In a small way, the bringing together of the CRESS family across the different generations will help this band of capable young people become great leaders, and be the type of leaders that have a heart for each other and be willing and able to share whatever gifts they have, no matter what country they live in.
So there you have it, a busy and successful trip in tricky times for South Sudan. Signing off feeling immensely grateful to be one of the guys that get to come out here and be a small part of the CRESS family relationship and to see the unbelievable and productive work of the team.
And as for you …. you will never ever know how much your involvement means, and it doesn’t matter what form that involvement takes, as even the simplest thing can change lives. Whatever you are doing keep it up because it’s working!
And finally finally! If you can do one thing for CRESS then it would be to tell one other person about it and send them to our website www.cressuk.org.
Peace and Love