Independence Doesn’t Mean Freedom

Wikipedia defines independence as “a condition of a nation, country, or state in which its residents and population, or some portion thereof, exercise self-government, and usually sovereignty, over the territory. . . . Independence does not necessarily mean freedom.”

As the United States approaches Independence Day, you might remember the specific freedoms provided by our Bill of Rights, along with the ongoing attention by citizens, our government, and the courts to interpret and maintain those freedoms. It isn’t a perfect system, but here we have many rights that aren’t available in all countries of the world.

South Sudan celebrates its third year of independence on July 9. I was fortunate to be in Duk Payuel, Jonglei State, Southern Sudan when 99% of the population expressed their wishes by voting to secede. I was also present July 9, 2011 when they world’s newest nation celebrated its first day of independence as the Republic of South Sudan.

The hopes and dreams of independence have not been realized by the innocent people who exercised their right to vote. Though billions of dollars have poured into the country for oil and other development, corruption and greed within South Sudan and by the investors who have raped the country’s resources without concern for the poverty of its residents has resulted in little improvement in the lives of the people. There is a lack of infrastructure. Not only is there little access to basic medical care or schools, there are only 100 miles of paved road in the country, and a six-month rainy season leaves many villages as virtual islands unreachable except on foot. Maternal death rates are the highest in the world, and a high percentage of children don’t reach their fifth birthday.

The civil war that began in December 2013 has devastated many parts of the country, hitting Jonglei state, where ASAH is located, particularly hard. Much of Duk County has evacuated. Ceasefires between the leaders have been signed and broken by both sides who refuse to recognize the failed leadership. More than a million people are internally displaced and hundreds of thousands have fled to refugee camps in border countries.

Facing this reality, you might assume the prospects are hopeless for a small group like ASAH. You would be wrong. Small means we can respond. Small means we can move quickly and take action without layers of bureaucracy to wade through first. Small means we run a tight and lean operation, and we make do with what we have. We have our eye on responding as soon as we can to the most urgent needs.

Thank you for standing by us during this transition as we moved our students out of the conflict area. Today I want to let you know the challenges we face. You are the reason we are able to respond to the daily and ongoing needs of our students and staff in their new home in Uganda. Thank you for being one of ASAH’s loyal donors and supporters.

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ASAH girls write about fleeing

When the conflict hit Duk County, everyone fled. Our students, all orphaned girls, were with their extended families in their respective villages (six villages in Duk County) when the rebels came through. Runners from villages already overrun by rebels spread the word, and most people, except for those too elderly to walk, escaped. Running with no food or access to clean water, our students witnessed shootings, passed dead and dying adults and children, and left behind those who were to weak to walk. Several girls saw rebels throw babies into the river. One girl said to me, “I never think I see such a thing in my life.” It’s like the Lost Boys all over again, but this time, the world is watching.

The ASAH staff began the work of locating our students and determining a safe place for us to reopen. Our staff earned their educations in Uganda during the previous war, and they were familiar with the area. They rented a gated compound in Moyo, across the border from South Sudan. The compound includes a house that was most recently used as a medical clinic. The house has five bedrooms, each with a shower and toilet. We have several other outbuildings – an office, a study and meeting area, a kitchen, latrines, and we have a large yard with space for games.

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ASAH Home & Office

Our Program Director and our Education Director have relocated along with our matron and two of our cooks. We hired an additional matron – a South Sudanese woman who has lived in the area for many years. She speaks the local language as well as Dinka and English. She helped us find our new home in Uganda.

Twenty-nine of our 34 students are with us in Moyo. They are enrolled in local schools – two in secondary school, and the others are in two different primary schools. The only common language our students share with the teachers and students is English, so their language skills are rapidly improving.

One other student is in Uganda, but we haven’t yet reached the guardian to get agreement for her to join us. Four other students are in Yaui, South Sudan, a rebel-controlled area. They are safe, but the commissioner, a rebel leader, will not allow travel outside the area, barring these girls from attending school. We are working with other agencies to see if they can help us.

Please understand that ASAH is not an orphanage. In Duk Payuel, we operated as a boarding school for orphaned girls in Duk County. Now in Moyo, we remain a boarding facility for our students, offering them food, shelter, medical care, paying for school fees, books, and uniforms, providing clothing and necessities for life. We retain ties with their guardians. While the conflict continues, we will not be transporting our students across the border, but all students have or will have a family member or friend assigned as their guardian in Uganda. We will experience transport costs to bring these girls to visit guardians at the long term break in December, or in other cases of family emergency.

You can change the lives of the ASAH girls by continuing to Protect, Educate, and Empower them. On the sidebar, I will offer some opportunities. Thanks for all you have done to support ASAH, and thanks for reading to the end of this long letter!

Sincerely,

Deb Dawson

President

African Soul, American Heart

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Paul Field on the Front Porch with ASAH students
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Separate Kitchen
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Bathroom – one of five in the house
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Bedroom – each bedroom sleeps six to eight students on bunks
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Backyard Games – large fenced yard

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Tukul on left is for the matrons to sleep
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ASAH girls – back row

The ASAH girls will STILL change their world!

ASAH Girls Playing Games
ASAH Girls Playing Games in Duk
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One response to “Independence Doesn’t Mean Freedom

  1. Pingback: Independence Day: Never Too Late to Reflect. | Giving + Learning·

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