Since 2004 I have made several trips to this region: Darfur, Eastern Chad and now South Sudan. I am here because I believe there is an obligation to "bear witness" and to take action. One acts in a variety of ways: humanitarian aid, advocacy for human rights and sharing the story of the most vulnerable that are desperately yearning to know that the world cares. I got involved when I realized that the world stood by until it was too late during the Holocaust, and during Rwanda, I did not act in anyway. Darfur was the catalyst in making me realize my responsibility to do something. I am here to witness and understand what will happen here in the months to happen -- and to try and grasp what it will take on a human and political level.
Sitting here in this lush remote village filled with mango trees (unlike much of South Sudan which is dry desert), it is hard to imagine how much blood has been spilled here on this soil -- over two million people lost their lives, and two million people saw their villages, homes and lives destroyed. South Sudan and Darfur are inextricably linked. It is no coincidence that the genocide in Darfur began only when the north and south had just about worked out their peace agreement. The reasons for all this are explained in lengthy papers and there are a variety of views. The discussion is complex but for me it boils down to one fundamental thing -- man's inhumanity to man.
I have visited many health clinics and talked with the people who fled their homes and saw their villages eviscerated. I have met with community leaders who all tell me that the major priorities are: providing health care and addressing disease, clean water, adequate food and education. One needs all of these as the cornerstone of any society. There is no question that matters of resource sharing and distribution and land rights are among the highest priorities -- both issues are simmering -- that need to be addressed creatively and strategically. It would be a major error to believe that they suddenly can do all this on their own.
The twentieth century was marked by so many advances: scientific, medical, technological, industrial to name but a few but one has to wonder did we progress as humane human beings? In Genesis, the first brother kills his brother. The 20th century saw the slaughter of more human beings than ever before -- from the Armenian Genocide to the one in Rwanda. New terms were invented to describe what we experienced: Holocaust, Genocide, Scorched Earth, and Ethnic Cleansing. Can there be a way of really describing the horrors that we have inflicted upon each other?
On July 9th, these people who have suffered every imaginable atrocity for decades will become the world's newest country -- The Republic of South Sudan. It will not be an easy task. There is little infrastructure in the north and when a State is born there is a need to work in every sector. In the capital city of Juba there are just a few paved roads. There is great potential here but the aid from the United States, the NGO community and the rest of the world remains critical. The humanitarian needs are immense in a country where many people are dying from diseases that are preventable: diarrhea, malaria, minimal access to clean water and many are in need of ARV's to survive.
The world will need to be patient and supportive if the people of South Sudan will flourish in a profoundly different way than it's soon to be neighbor on the north, Sudan. Like any people, the citizens of South Sudan know what they need. Lots of people from other countries have already arrived with the hope of making money. That is needed but is totally inadequate by itself. Hopefully, leaders from different sectors will volunteer their time to help develop a political, business, health, education, legal, social and cultural system that works. Rather than waiting for crises perhaps world leaders like Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela and others should come here early on to listen and to provide their input.
Geopolitical issues are incredibly complex and I can only understand them for personal life experience. Human development and country development require both require time, understanding, support and love. At the core of the human experience is doing our part to improve the quality of life for all human beings. South Sudan is about to be tested and so are we. In a world with so much turmoil, can we keep the people of the world's newest country on our radar and do our part to help them shape a just and civil society?
Rabbi Lee Bycel is president of CedarStreet Leadership - a Leadership Development Group. Full descriptions of his trip to South Sudan can be found at www.cedarstreetleadership.com