The last leg of my project visit in March was to Juba in South Sudan. This is a belated report on the visit.
I flew to Juba from Entebbe in Uganda to meet representatives from the projects RIJ funded in South Sudan.
My last visit to Juba was in 2007 and the airport was little changed since then. I had to pay 100 USD for a visa, although I knew that the standard amount is 50 USD. The man on the baggage check was more interested in whether I was as tall as him than in my luggage (not that I had anything to worry about!). As in 2007 I had no idea how to get to the hotel and there are no authorized taxis so I stood for a while watching what was going on before asking someone for a ride.
There were few, if any hotels in 2007 but since then hotels have sprung up everywhere. The room cost me 85 USD a night compared to 150 USD in a tent last time. The hotel room was basic but had everything I needed including wi-fi when the electricity was on – and an air-conditioner! Juba is much hotter than Uganda and it was very dusty at the end of the dry season.
There were signs of development everywhere with more tarred roads and lots of construction. Unfortunately, most of the construction is by Kenyan and Uganda companies providing little financial benefit to South Sudan. It is still an expensive city with entrepreneurs making the most of the large number of aid agencies.
My first appointment was at Right to Play. RIJ funded two projects through Right to Play – see: http://refugeesinternationaljapan.org/rtp_aids_2010
I did not have an address for the office but the boda-boda driver (motorcycle taxi) was very patient as we drove around following lots of false leads. At the Right to Play office I met Deng and James but unfortunately, we were unable to visit any schools due to some tensions in the outlying townships. The Right to Play office in Juba is working with a skeleton staff as it waits for new funding to be approved. The emphasis on funding has moved towards facilitating a peaceful transition and development as the new country establishes itself. I talked to James who has been working on Right to Play projects for some years and learnt more about their excellent programme of activities that address the psycho-social problems facing children who have lived through uncertain times.
Both Deng and James have their own stories of escape and life in refugee camps. Deng managed to escape despite being handicapped and unable to walk.
The next day I met with Mathieu Rouquette, Country Director for Mercy Corps.
RIJ funded a micro-enterprise project in Twic County through Mercy Corps that allowed young returnees to set up businesses. See: http://refugeesinternationaljapan.org/mercycorps_ssudan_2011
I am sorry I did not have time to visit Twic County because it was a good project and I would like to have met the beneficiaries. The bakery group is doing very well and Matthieu said the Mercy Corps bread has become famous.
Mercy Corps is working with several other INGOs to build a civil society network – this includes capacity building at all levels and particularly for civil servants. This would create a robust civil society that will hold the authorities responsible for its actions.
I also met with Steven Wondu, Auditor General for South Sudan. Steven was Sudan Ambassador to Japan for some years and a friend of Refugees International Japan. I was privileged to receive a signed copy of his autobiographical book, From Bush to Bush.