Hello from Rochester, NY and Cleveland, OH. We are back in the USA with quite a few updates. Liasor's voice is recorded in blue and Christine's is recorded in red.
Here are our reflections from the last three weeks in Doro Refugee Camp:
On a rainy morning, we sat around a table in the company of a few cousins and a reliable radio signal. As the music filling our house mixed with the rhythm of the rain outside, we consumed multiple rounds of coffee along with porridge made from the vitamin meal bars that had been delivered that morning. We entertained ourselves with good conversation and by trying to guess which song the DJ would play next, each of us doing our own secret dances to tunes from all over the continent and abroad. We probably danced the hardest to the West African beats, all of Taylor Swift's singles, and the local hits. This was one of my favorite mornings and I remember praying that the rain would never end. We all pulled our sweatshirts tighter round as the rain cooled the breeze blowing into our open door. We watched the rain fall and thanked God for hot drinks made from roasted beans on open fire and for the meal bars we mixed into the coffee making espresso-flavored delight. Cozy moment, please stay...
By afternoon we were drenched, but not by waters from heaven, but by our own sweat from the sweltering sun. It was rainy season, but wet mornings like this one were few and far between. Hot days and dust-filled winds reigned in Maban County over the last weeks. We were all praying for the rain's return.
The last weeks in Doro were full of special moments like the one above, so we want to recount a few more of them and give full updates regarding the work of Uduk Hope Inc.
Uduk Hope Updates | How We Used the "GoFundMe" Funds:
From our very first day in Doro, we set out to select a team of people to help run Uduk Hope from within the camp. We are happy to announce that 8 people were appointed to the Uduk Hope Doro team. We chose 4 men and 4 women, some of whom had expressed interest well before our trip, others who had come forward this summer expressing their passion for the work of Uduk Hope, and others who had been recommended by community leaders. Each individual had begun helping in big and small ways throughout our time in Doro, so it was a natural transition to add them to the team. We will introduce them to the Uduk Hope Board of Directors in the USA and then add their names and profiles to the Uduk Hope website.
Since the last post, we also held our first food distribution with the money we raised through GoFundMe on behalf of Uduk Hope. This distribution event came about after months of prior planning.
Back in January 2016, we along with Rev. Brian Babcock of the Rochester Connection began to think about the best ways to have a food intervention during our time in Doro Camp after learning that there was a food crisis happening at the time we were planning to visit. Ultimately, our trip to Doro came about as a result of these meetings where we had deeper questions about what was happening. A few of these questions included: Why is there a food crisis when organizations that provide food are in the camp? Is it a method of delivery issue? Or simply a shortage of food from the outside? When we spoke about these things, it became apparent that we couldn't help everyone in the camp with food, simply because of lack of resources to do so. We didn’t have trucks or airplanes to buy and deliver large quantities of food or to pay for their transportation costs. So we shifted our focus saying, what we may need to do is figure out which families are most in need and see if we can help provide those families with enough for a month's supply of food. Since we did not have a team at the camp to help us with these questions, we decided to go ourselves to conduct what was initial research.
Months before going, we decided to open a GoFundMe account where people who were interested in donating for food purposes could do so. We made a total of just over 700 dollars from that campaign thanks to very generous donors.
While in Doro Refugee Camp, we immediately discovered that our plan to find families that were most in need would not work. We held a meeting with the elders of all the Uduk churches in Doro camp. There used to be 7 big churches but now there are about 20 due to increased population and lack of space to seat everyone. In this meeting, we thought about the best ways that we could reach many people with the small amount of money that we had raised. Remember that in our last post, weeks before, we had 4 focus groups with community members. One thing that we learned was the hunger crisis was affecting every family and not just some. We will be publishing a final report of the causes of hunger, how people have dealt with them, and their suggestions on how to mitigate some of challenges. Because of our newfound knowledge, we had to shift our focus from targeting specific families to hosting as many as we could. When we agreed on this with the leaders, we purchased 5 goats, about 8 bags of sorghum, oil, salt, sugar, tea and coffee. On Saturday July 9th we used $500 of the amount we raised to host a huge meal for 819 people!
It was an all-day event. The materials were equally distributed to the churches and each of those churches decided who would prepare what meal. On the day of the gathering, a team of young men and women were chosen to prepare tea and coffee for all in attendance. We were able to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for everyone who came out.
We decided to go through the church to organize and advertise this event primarily because of the church's big role in the community and because of the recommendation of many community members in our focus groups to hold the event through the church.
The remainder of the GoFundMe money will be used for a second future event targeted at school-aged children. We chose one school at random and our plan is to provide the children in attendance with food during one school day. Since we are no longer in Doro, we have tasked the 8 people of the new Uduk Hope Doro team to carry out the plan. We held meetings with the Doro team so that we can all be on the same page as far as communication, accounting, record-keeping, planning, implementation, and evaluation. I'm so excited that the Doro team will carry out this plan so that people don't see Uduk Hope solely as Liasor, Rumthus, and I. Moreover, we have been telling the community about the Uduk families and others in the USA who are also on the Uduk Hope Board and the work they are doing. I look forward to reporting on how the school food event goes in the coming weeks.
Let us put things into perspective. Yes we were able to feed a lot of people with the money that we raised through GoFundMe. As good as that was, it is very small when looking at the total population of the camp. Doro camp has slightly over 50,000 people of different ethnic backgrounds and represents a myriad of cultural diversity all of which experience hunger. We are praying for more lasting, structural solutions to the hunger crisis. We are thankful that we got to share the amount we had, which you all helped us raise money for. We can't say thank you enough! It was incredible to see over 800 people come together to cook and serve one another.
Uduk Hope Updates: Research Developments
The primary purpose of our trip shifted from food support to research early on. Research is important so that we understand the actual causes of hunger and other issues in Doro camp and to help develop an organizational strategy for Uduk Hope Inc. Since research was our number one priority, we did just that. Having called together 4 focus groups during our stay, we were able to hear stories from people who live in different villages. We learned that food is distributed based on family size, that families do not get the full amount of food that they used to and are expected to make up the difference through farming. Likewise, we learned that conflict between the host community and the refugees perpetuates the hunger crisis. When in times of peace, this would not be the case. Additionally, because families do not have enough clothes to wear and salt for their food, they sell some of what is distributed to them in order to find clothing and salt. Still others whose food runs out before the month ends borrow food from those that have food and when the day of distribution comes, the borrowers have to return what they get which creates a cycle of hunger and borrowing. This naturally leads to the question of what is to be done now?
For the Uduk Hope team, the next year or so will be dedicated to creating and supporting projects based on what we have learned. The above mentioned things are related to food only, but there are a variety of other important concerns that we learned that also inform which projects we will be focusing on from now on. Since Uduk Hope Inc. is a nonprofit organization, we will be doing a lot of fundraising to increase our ability to support projects. Emphasizing relationship building in the form of partnerships with colleges, churches, professionals, and high schools will be the next phase of supporting the people in Doro Refugee Camp. Supporting how? The hunger crisis which I mentioned above is a result of many different factors. Instead of coming up with solutions for people in Doro, the people in Doro have given us their own answers that they, along with support from others in America and elsewhere, can help implement. We will explore ways to operationalize solutions that people in Doro have proposed through partnerships with schools and churches.
We also developed a good relationship with the regional director of Samaritan's Purse in Doro and we spoke to him about potential partnerships as well. We will continue conversations with him after leaving Doro.
Our original plan was to speak to officials of every organization in Doro, but due to the abrupt change in plans we had to alter our strategy. We still have the contact information of the director of CRA (the South Sudanese governmental refugee agency) which grants permission to all organizations hoping to operate in the camp, and we are also having one of our Doro team members acquire the contact information of the head of the UNHCR office which delegates what each organization does in the camp. Our hope is to communicate with these two high officials from here in the States to learn more about what each organization in Doro is mandated to do and to get the contact information of the directors of all the other organizations to reach out to them directly via email. Before coming to Doro, we weren't able to do this because we didn't know who to contact. But now, we should have all the information we need for such communication. So while it would be better to speak in person to officials from each organization, this backup plan is the next best thing. Besides, we found out that many of the organizations in Doro have also evacuated due to the insecurity in Juba and growing tensions between the Maban and Uduk people in Doro. So even if we stayed til August, we might not have been able to speak with each organization as we planned.
In addition, our team got to observe a teacher-training through an
organization called Save the Children. We saw teachers from various schools being trained in statistics and assessment methods. The trainers (who were from Uganda and Kenya) were amazing. I took so many notes from them that I want to incorporate into my own teaching practice.
Aside from Uduk Hope updates, we want to take this time to share some other things we are really thankful for and that we will greatly miss:
Tea Shop Afternoons:
Liasor and I passed the last few afternoons in a few small tea shops in the open marketplaces in Doro. At the tea shops, we were able to treat 5-6 people to multiple rounds of coffee, tea, and snacks for less than $5 USD. They also served amazing Ethiopian cuisine. We brought different people with us to thank them for their hospitality and to treat family members who worked hard hosting us. We all LOVED the hibiscus tea they serve there as well as the black tea with milk. YUM! The tea shops easily became my favorite places in Doro.
A Couple Parties to Remember:
Three weeks ago, one of Liasor's uncles (who is incredibly sweet) treated us to an amazing day. First, he came to our house with fresh cow's milk that he heated in a kettle. He served it to us with sugar for breakfast and it tasted like heaven. I don't even like milk normally! It was like eating ice-cream flavored tea. I told Liasor, "Is this the type of milk God was referring to when he mentioned the land flowing with milk and honey?" Liasor was like, "For sure".
His uncle drove out to a market far away to get special items for a meal he was planning. Then he took us to his house where we had two amazingly-seasoned lamb stews and a tasty chicken stew. We were so stuffed we couldn't eat the dinner he made for us later that day (which was a rice and lamb stew dish). He also gave us soda pop (a scarce commodity in this camp) and made us feel like the most highly esteemed guests. I learned so much about hospitality that day with Liasor's uncle. He put so much work, money, and time into that day and I was so appreciative. I've also learned a lot from him about teaching, as he is a teacher at one of the schools here.
My Birthday Party: I had a wonderful birthday on July 19, which started with a coffee shop date with Liasor and ended with a celebration with over 100 people from the family and the community. I've never had that many people celebrate my birthday before ever in my life. One of the pastors also spoke and delivered a powerful message about family, growth, and community. It was such a special day, complete with a cozy rain storm that caused us to rush barefoot in the clay-mud to get from a friend's house to make it in time for my party at home. I've never been one to enjoy playing in the mud, but I had such a good time walking between tall stalks of corn, sludging through the clay and laughing with Liasor, cousins and friends about our muddy plight. We had to quickly wash our feet and legs before joining the many guests who came for the birthday celebration. Basically it was a birthday for the books!
Church & Humbling Perspectives:
One thing that was incredibly inspiring and humbling for me was hearing the perspectives of the church community in Doro. Many people are not thrilled to be living in a camp setting, but many have also pointed out the silver linings and the blessings of such difficult situations. I've heard many women and men at the church speak about how God has used this refugee situation to bring small blessings, such as receiving a little more support for the children's education which wasn't as strong before people fled their homes, coming together with other groups of people from around the region and from abroad, and receiving the opportunity to understand the most important and essential things needed in life. Hearing people speak about hardship in this way has brought me to my knees in awe and reflection. What are ways that I can see God move in the hardships of my own life? Would I even be able to have the same perspective if I had gone through what some of my friends here have gone through? I only pray that my faith would be as strong. I learned so much everyday from everyone in Doro, and I'm excited that I got to grow closer to a couple of Liasor's cousins who have become dear friends.
One close friend is Liasor's cousin Rebecca who is a little younger than me. She speaks some English, and my T'wampa and Arabic were slowly beginning to form coherent phrases, so together we were able to have semi-conversations which were mostly reliant on nonverbal communication like laughter. She is getting married soon and her wedding is scheduled to happen in August. We would have been in Doro for the wedding if it wasn't for our change in plans. I'm super excited for her, and I wish we didn't have to miss it. Rebecca and I have bonded over discussing marriage and wedding planning and from doing each other's hair. She's taught me how to make coffee from scratch and how to sing songs in Arabic and T'wampa. I miss her dearly.
My T'wampa Teachers!!:
Liasor spoke with two of his family members who are teachers in Doro and they agreed to teach me T'wampa using the children's language books. I started out on Book 1, learning to pronounce the different sounds, and it was so hard for me (the struggle was real). Over the last two weeks, I met with both teachers each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It was exhausting work, but so worth it! My plan is to continue going through the books with Liasor in the States.
As I was finishing this portion of the post, things came full circle as we had yet another rainy day huddled inside with hot drinks. Well, it was more like an intense torrential downpour. But still, the rain was the perfect bookend for our time in Doro, as rain meant time spent close together. I hope the rain continued after we left so the family can enjoy the cool weather it brings and so that the corn and tomatoes growing in the yard can finally come in.
Thoughts on Leaving and the Journey Home:
While we were in Doro Refugee Camp, conflict erupted in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. This is what we know: There was an official meeting between the president and the vice president of South Sudan who were fighting each other not too long ago in South Sudan’s civil war. President Salva Kir invited Riek Machar back to his original position of Vice President, ending the civil war well before our plan to go into South Sudan. During this particular meeting, the VP's guards were attacked and killed. When news personnel came into the meeting to ask who orchestrated this, they both said it wasn’t them. President Salva Kir delivered Riek back to his people safely, according to high level officials. The attack caused widespread violence throughout the city and other parts of South Sudan. Meanwhile in Doro Camp, we were in peaceful times. At the same time, we heard that conflict was erupting in all the major cities around us.
When our friend and pastor, Brian, got word of this, he initiated communication with me and my team. He recommended that we leave immediately. At that time, the inhabitants of Doro including ourselves had no fears of the conflict in Juba reaching us. Christine and I spoke with the regional coordinator of Samaritan's Purse, the organization that listed us as missionaries and sent us from Juba to Doro on their airplane. The regional coordinator encouraged us to be ready to leave at any moment as personnel from Samaritan's Purse and other big organizations were being evacuated out of the country into Uganda and Kenya. I told him that if he and his critical staff evacuated, our team should also be secured seats on that flight. I told him that while taking into consideration the fact that our research was incomplete, that our location was relatively calm, and that we were making good progress with the research. Meanwhile, the death of an individual in the outskirts of town escalated the conflict between the Maban host community and the Uduk refugees in Doro. Taking into consideration the uncertainty of this conflict that was much closer to us, advice from Brian and the regional coordinator for SP, I decided to move forward with an evacuation plan. It seemed like we were in the eye of a major storm that was bringing destruction to every other place but ours and I was not going to risk our safety.
When I informed Brian of this, he worked tirelessly to see to our evacuation. It went something like this:
-We arranged to fly out of Doro on one of the Samaritan's Purse cargo planes. This arrangement was of no cost to us because it was considered an evacuation.
7/22/2016: After very emotional goodbyes and a touching family prayer all together in our tiny house, we flew out of Doro on the Samaritan's Purse (SP) cargo plane. The plane was incredibly small with only about 6 rows of seats, 12 passengers, and all our bags tied up behind us between our seats and the bathroom. Needless to say, it was a very turbulent ride! We stopped first in Juba (much to our dismay!!) to get our passports stamped on our way out of South Sudan. Juba was the last place we wanted to be since it was the center of the current unrest. In Juba, we encountered more problems because we were told that we didn’t have some registration papers that we should have gotten when we first arrived 6 weeks prior. After much confusion, the SP staff member accompanying us helped us sort it all out. We sang high praises as we boarded the plane again away from Juba, and had another 2 hour flight to Eldoret, Kenya. In Eldoret, another SP attendant drove us to a SP compound/guest house where we ate and slept well. But only after we got lost and the attendant almost accidentally drove us to the wrong location, in a sketchy dark area. But praise God we made it to the SP compound and had a restful night there.
7/23/2016: In Eldoret, Kenya our connection with Samaritan’s Purse ended. From the USA, Brian arranged for us to be picked up by Free Methodist Church (FMC) contacts and driven to Nairobi. So early that morning, a driver came for us to take us on a 5-hour drive from Eldoret to Nairobi, Kenya. The drive was spectacular! We saw a lot of countryside, full of lush green and rolling hills. We spotted wildlife (quite a few zebras and antelope) and ate the most delicious grilled corn from vendors along the way. It was such a scenic, peaceful road trip. I am so thankful we got the opportunity to drive through that area of Kenya.
Once in Nairobi, we met with our FMC contact, Mike, who set us up with a hotel. We also had a great dinner with him and some friends who had been working in the Nuba Mountains with a Bible quizzing team. Liasor had participated in Bible quizzing as a young child in Rochester, NY and surprisingly he realized that his former coach’s son was sitting with us at dinner! It was such a cool connection.
7/24/2016: We went to Mike’s church in a town called Karen outside of Nairobi. The service was amazing and it was children’s Sunday so we got to see the young kids perform skits and songs and it was a very moving experience. We also heard a powerful message from Mike’s wife.
We got to explore a little more of the city and all three of us absolutely LOVED Nairobi. Both Liasor and I agreed that we could see ourselves moving there. We got to check out an awesome shopping center and some great restaurants. Nairobi has a lot of things to do much like NYC and I loved seeing so much diversity. I also admired all the fashion and hairstyles. It was a GREAT day in Nairobi for us.
7/25/2016: We woke up at 1:00am for an early flight. We flew from Nairobi to Cairo (about 4 hours), then ran through the Cairo airport to make it to our connecting flight to London (about 5 hours), then rested and ate before our final 7-hour flight to Toronto. When we finally landed in Toronto, we were incredibly exhausted and each had experienced our share of stomach issues. We were so relieved to see our friends Brian and Carol who picked us up from the airport and drove us for about 4 hours to Rochester, NY. When we finally made it to the Dima/Daniel household, we passed out.
7/29/2016 I was driven by Brian and Carol to my home in Cleveland. I'm finally functioning again after a few days of jet lag and fatigue that restricted to me to the bed and couch. It's so good to be productive and writing again!
All of this would not have been possible without Brian’s hard work and people who donated a lot of money to shift our original tickets. Our original flights were on August 15 from Doro and on August 19th from Juba to Cairo to Toronto. With the changes that Brian made, we flew out on July 25. These are big changes for international flights and cost a lot of money. Special thank you's to those who helped us get out safe by caring and being generous.
I'm super sad we left early because I was at a place where my relationships with everyone were just getting stronger. So many family members shared emotional words with me and expressed great joy that we got this time together. I know it was also especially difficult for Liasor and Rumthus. I can't even fully process all my emotions yet, but I'll try to sum them up with this list: thankful, inspired, hopeful, touched, joyful, sad, not ready to go. Now that I am back home, all the things I need to do (like find a job) are looming over my head. I already miss the peace and rest I experienced while in Doro and I'm going to fight hard to avoid the stress that surrounded me over the last two years while I was in grad school.
Now that we've gotten some much needed rest, our plan is to reach out to the remaining organizations that we didn't get to talk to in Doro. Then from there we will need to prepare a presentation for the Uduk Hope Board of Directors and together create a strategic plan for the organization. We also need to introduce the Uduk Hope Board to the Uduk Hope Doro Team via Skype.
Liasor is also presenting on short segments of our trip every Sunday at his church for the next few weeks. (Stop by and visit Heart & Soul Community Church if you're in the Rochester, NY area! I'll also be speaking this coming Sunday!).
Personally, my next step to is apply for jobs in my field (please someone hire me!), and plan a wedding, and make some life decisions, and reflect more on this incredible summer. But we can't forget to continue getting rest! Please Lord, remind me of the rest and peace You gave me in Doro. Help me not to fall back into my workaholic, stressful ways. I have a feeling this next season of life will be more restful and more focused on relationships and personal/spiritual growth. Can't wait. :)
Thank you all again for your thoughts, prayers, and support this summer. If anyone is interested in staying informed about Uduk Hope updates, feel free to contact me or Liasor, or check out the Uduk Hope website (www.udukhope.com).
Christine and Liasor
P.S. Check out the videos below for some songs and special moments from our time in Doro.
Above: Playing charades before a soccer match.
Above: Teaching Naruto signs to a cousin nicknamed Dei. Dei is deaf, but that has never stopped him from learning and doing amazing things.
Christine's favorite song is the Arabic one below: