Andy Schaefer, CRS technical adviser for emergency coordination, is in Agok, Sudan working to assist some of the more than 90,000 people displaced by recent violence in the contested border area of Abyei, Sudan. CRS is a Caritas member. He shares with us his impressions from the field.
Whenever a person responds to an emergency situation you have to face the grief and loss of those affected. There is so much work to be done and so many people who need assistance. It is also in these moments that you see the real face of humanity and the deep compassion people can show to their fellow man. I’ve seen two such examples since arriving to the Agok area of Sudan.
Agok is a town that used to number about ten thousand but has recently swelled to the tens of thousands since conflict broke out in the neighboring town of Abyei. The International Organisation of Migration estimates that more than 90,000 have been displaced. A large percentage of the displaced have found their way to Agok, which is only 25 miles from Abyei.
In general, it is next to impossible for people in Agok to squeeze out a living. A natural disaster, bad luck or man-made conflict can wipe out a family’s reserves. Despite this, I’ve seen numerous families in Agok open their homes to the displaced. They share the burden of those who fled the violence by providing them with shelter, food and water. They’ve cobbled together a support structure to help their countrymen weather these difficult times. Of course this is not a sustainable solution –the host families will soon run out of supplies. Assisting the displaced is not a task they can shoulder on their own. But, for me, as a humanitarian aid worker, seeing their compassion and commitment to assisting their neighbors has been a heartening experience.
Assistant parish priest, Father Biong, is another amazing example of the generosity of the human spirit. He works in Abyei and has accompanied his flock to Agok. You can tell he is loved by the way people greet him in the street. Everywhere he goes he’s greeted with smiles and handshakes and the name “abuna,” which means father in the Dinka language. He’s been instrumental in our relief efforts.
Father Biong has been doing a great job of rallying people and gathering volunteers. Catholic Relief Services and the Caritas network, trained more than 30 youth volunteers in emergency response last December. Father Biong has been helping with our work. They are all local residents and they all speak the language, so he’s been working with them to register people to receive our assistance. In the process he’s been troubleshooting conflicts. When people feel like they’re not receiving the help they need, he sits down with them and explains the process.
He helps to personalize our work and is able to go after unmet needs. While we focus on the big picture of getting much needed supplies into the area he is able to really drill down to the heart of things and address people’s more personal problems. For example, many of the elderly had to flee without being able to gather their medications. Father Biong finds out what prescriptions they were taking and works his connections to get them their medicine or provides financial assistance for them to purchase it on their own.
It’s been tremendous being able to work with Father Biong and the rest of the Church in Agok. They’ve opened their doors to us and have been sheltering us while we work in the area. It has been really wonderful to be able to work with them and see the impact that the Church has on this community.
This article first appeared on CRS Voices.