Saturday, December 4, 2010

We Came, We Saw, We Grew!

We think, all too often, that we know everything. We think we know what is wrong with others. We think we know how other people should live their lives, after all, our way is the "right" way. When we take the time to know others, however, we quickly learn that there are many "right" ways. We have seen these past weeks that that the pictures we had of the people of Sudan are sorrowfully wrong in many, many ways. Khartoum is a very safe and engaging city. Citizens of Sudan will help you when you need help...they will not walk away and leave you in need. They are very upset that there is a very good chance that their country will be broken in half following the referendum to separate the south from the north on January 9th. They do not sit by and watch as foreigners come and do things to help...they join in and work with you. They hate war. They love their families. They love their communities. They will fight for what they believe is right. You see them smile a lot. Despite an income that would have most Canadians turn up their noses and say "no thanks, I would rather go on employment insurance", most Sudanese will make it work and still maintain their dignity.
At the YMCA schools we visited, both adults and children alike, Sudanese would so anything to get an education in conditions that we would probably walk away from back home. Children sit under modest sun shade on benches in spaces called rooms only because they have 3 walls of mud and bricks. and are excited they have a chance to learn. Teachers of good quality but earning only a modest incentive respond to the enthusiasm of these children and help give them a chance to become providors and leaders in their communities. And they do just that.
At the adult school, young adults and teens will travel for hours each day to reach the YMCA school located on the fourth floor of a downtown office building that turns its elevator off in the middle of the afternoon to conserve electricity. No one complains. Everyone climbs those stairs without railings and in the dark because on the fourth floor is an opportunity. They get there and they are smiling. They work hard. They too are becoming providors and leaders in their communities - some of those communities are over 20 kilometers away.
As all this happens, the YMCA choir sings of joy and thanks. And they share their music with all who might be interested. In all of this thre is no concern whether one is a Christian or a Muslim, a male or a female, a wealthy or poor person. They are all part of the Sudanese community and who can say that this is not right. There are many "right" ways to live our lives.
So at the end of the day, who learns from who? Who enlightens the lives of others? Who changes the lives of others? We learned. We were enlightened. We were changed. We are the benefactors of this partnership.
And thus ends the visit of the four westerners who travelled afar. But it is only the visit that has ended. The learnings, enlightenments and changes in our lives will continue. We came, we saw, we grew.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

To Them It Is Home And They Are Happy

Today was another exception visit to the Khartoum YMCA school for children in Gabarona, on the ourskirts of Omdurman across the Nile from Khartoum. Joining us today was Bruce Steen, Program Manager for the Sudan Program of CIDA. Hundreds of children from the school were anxiously awaiting the metal door of

the school to open and when it did, loud cheers went up from the boys and girls from about 3 years of age to 12. They were excited and after a few short welcoming words from Bruce, Dr. Wageeh and myself, they broke into song and were obviously anxious to sing for us. We noticed many of the new clothes that we had handed out to students last week were being worn by the children
although some of the clothes had already gotten a bit soiled. An amazing thing we noticed was on one occasion the three of us visitors were talking to each other and the children started getting a bit restless on their benches. All of a sudden a young boy of about 10 years jumped up on his bench in the middle of the group
and started singing a song in Arabic. Within seconds the whole group were following him in the song with more excitement than any of the other songs they had sung.
We did not stay long, not wanting to overdo our unscheduled visit to the school - especially on a hot afternoon when they would ordinarily be on their way home. The school was buzzing with excitement both inside and outside as it was obviously a community centre in the middle of an
otherwise desolate area of the Sahara. No matter how it appeared to us, it
was home to them and they were happy.
Photos: (top to bottom)
- student decides to lead the group in a favorite song
- happy students
- part of the group
- Girl and younger sibling
- Bruce Steen from CIDA in Canada with a group of students

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Booking a Seat Today on Yesterday's Flight

Our visit to Port Sudan was one of the most interesting excursions a person could make. Not only did we experience another exciting and impressive YMCA school, meet with a committed and dedicated YMCA Board of Directors and experience some great Red Sea culture, but we had an interesting experience with Sudan Airways. We had only one choice to fly to Port Sudan as one of the two airlines flying there was booked solid. Sudan Airways had seats to we were relieved to know tht seats were still available. The 4:00 pm flight out of Khartoum was unexpectedly delayed, but we finally flew and managed to arrive in the port city late in the evening. To return, however, was more of a task. We had travelled with 3 Germans from the YMCA in Germany who support a YMCA school in Port Sudan. They were to leave Monday on the afternoon flight. Call after call to the airline resulted in delay after delay and the plane never did arrive in Port Sudan and so it could neve leave Port Sudan. Dr. Wageeh and I were scheduled to leave the next afternoon, but as there was no flight the day before we were to leave there were seveal passengers anxious to get on a plane. The next morning, call after call to the airport and delay after delay to our flight and the flight that never made it from the day before. Figuring that Air Sudan would not consider two flights to Port Sudan in the same day, we cancelled our tickets for today's flight and booked two seats on yesterday's flight, thinking that would give us a better chance on actually getting on the plane. Still more delays after delays and we finally made it back to Khartoum just after 10:00 pm last night. We would very much suggest not flying Sudan Airways. We never really knew if we would get back or not. There are no display b oards with information or even available staff that knew when any plane would come or go. It all just happened by accident that most passengers found out about the actual time of the flight. The flight we were on was actually 31 hours late. Sounds like trains in Canada!
Today is report writing day and laundry day. Tomorrow Dr. Wageeh and I will be travelling back to our Gabarona school with a group of visiting CIDA officials that really want to see this school. We will be visiting the downtown school again and then will start to wrap up this great trip to Sudan.
Word has it that Helen, Kim and Nancy have started to adapt to Northern Ontario weather conditions and are slowly coming to grips with the realities of home.
Stay tuned.
Photos: German YMCA visitors to Sudan (Fritz, Andrea dn Matthias); and a bus loaded with Southern Sudanese leaving the North before the referendum.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Day of Rest in a City of Action

Although it is Saturday in Sudan, it is the second day of their weekend with Friday being their religious day of worship and the streets are much quieter than an average weekday. It is a day like all others in many respects with the temperature in the high 30's and virtually no breeze.
Today is a rest day during this rather exhausting visit. The children of the family of Wageeh William (shown left sstganding in front of their parents) are in school as the Christian schools have Friday and Sunday off, but not Saturday. A normal day in this household means catching the news on TV in the morning via satelite (BBC preferred here although I have found Aljazeera to be very good as well. ) The morning Khartoum Monitor paper highlights more news about the upcoming referendum in the south and the peace talks that are nearing completion in Darfur. The paper also has headlines about Justin Beiber winning 4 awards at the Music Awards ceremony earlier this week and that the Black Eyed Peas will be performing at the Super Bowl (which does not appear in tv here - no one interested in that when soccer is being played). We will be breaking bread shortly for lunch at the Wageeh William homestead with a group from Germany and then . . . . don't know yet. It is a dayof rest. Tomorrow we head of on a flying adventure with Sudan Airways to Port Sudan for a couple of days with the reborn YMCA there and then back to Khartoum to complete the visit, write up reports, and a few more visits to Khartoum YMCA progams.
Stay tuned - we may not be as regular with postings, but we will be back! Mona just got back from school so I better return her internet stick to her.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

All Good Things Come to an End. . .

It is well past midnight. The morning papers are being delivered to distribution outlets for early morning risers. The streets of this city of 5.5 million are completely deserted and streetlights cast their beams on a city of silence. Businesses are closed tight and not even a spot of light radiates from the rolling metal doors that conceal the shops. This is Khartoum after 11:00 pm any night of the week. Only the rare red tail lights of cars coming from the airport are visible. No headlights as drivers leave their headlights off at night except to give signals to other drivers to get our of their way.

We have just said good bye to three of the Four Westerners - Nancy, Helen and Kim. The first stage of our visit to Sudan is over and now they leave to rejoin with their families and colleagues back in Canada, full of new experiences, emotions, learnings and wonderful new friends.

But today was not without its own adventures. A meeting this morning with a group of YMCA volunteers and staff in a remote part of the city who are providing a unique and well used service to the community in which they exist. This is a school for adults and it has had its own experiences with ups and downs over the years as it has tried to exist. Today just coincidently happened to be their graduation ceremony, so 20 or so students graduated and received their certificates. We learned much about how a group of dedicated teachers have made a significant impact on the quality of life in their community.

Following a video Skype call late this afternoon for us but at 9:00 am back in Sudbury, we visited the Khartoum YMCA Young Adult school in downtown Khartoum. Here over 1,000 students a year in a school supported by the YMCA's of Northern Ontario receive an education that will prepare them for a job. YMCA schools are well respected in Khartoum and employers have been known to state that a YMCA education certificate will get you a good paying job better than a university diploma. This school has been operating for close to 20 years and has directly enhanced the lives of close to 20,000 Sudanese of all religions, all colours and both sexes during this time. Personal health and HIV/AIDS education is a standard part of all programs.

After supper, we headed off to a traditional Sudanese wedding which seemed to be a favorite activity for well over 1000 persons who attended to give well wishes to the bride and groom. Then it was off to the airport to say our good byes.

Stay tuned for more about the impact of this visit.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Unfinished Business

In a few hours, Kim, Helen and Nancy will be leaving Sudan to return to Northern Ontario and their respective YMCA's. The visit has been full and it has been memorable for a host of reasons. Meetings with community members, YMCA members, YMCA Board members, staff, students, CIDA officials and embassy officials have filled hours of time but have also provided information and plans for the future.
But, we are not finished yet. There is still one full day of activity and meetings to go and a lot of unfinished business to try to wrap up. We have visited programs of the Khartoum YMCA and have tried t learn more about the Sudanese culture and the city of Khartoum.
Today we met with the Board of the YMCA and learned a great deal about the Khartoum association and its operation. (Picture above). It is a vibrant and growing association that has overcome a myriad of obstacles over the years to become stronger and more effective. The meeting place was Khartoum's newest hotel (picture above right) shaped to resemble the sails of a large boat.
While driving through Khartoum's famous fruit and vegetable market, we saw much of the older Khartoum - unfinished buildings and amazing outdoor stall after stall of fresh fruit and vegetables.
We finished the day with a relaxing evening with Rejean Halle and his wife at the Coptic Club in Khartoum. Rejean is an official with the Canadian Embassy and has recently started a two year stint in Khartoum. Tomorrow we move away from the policy and administration side of the YMCA and move back to the programs.
Stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We Learned a Lot Today

It was a hot Tuesday. The sun had no mercy as it blasted its rays down on the parched and lifeless ground. Piles of garbage caused our vehicle to swerve so it could remain on a relative flat but unmarked roadway through the mud and straw dwellings that housed hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons from the Nubian Mountains, Darfur and war-torn Southern Sudan. As the Land Cruiser slowly rolled through an everlasting human obstacle course it appeared as though half the population was under thae age of 15.
It was not difficult to tell when we were approaching the YMCA school in this area called Gabarona. (meaning "forced to relocate"). Children were milling about the entrance of the school a school with the huge metal doors and high mud and straw walls. There was excitement in the air as we parked the vehicle and started to walk toward the doors of the school - believed to be one of only three schools in the entire resettlement area. The five of us carried in huge bags of brand new clothes which we were scheduled to hand out to the 315 of the 370 students of the YMCA school.
As we walked through the doors we were met by a noisy group of students all seated under the straw matting above their heads and waiting for something they could not understand. Why would these white-skinned people from so far away come to visit OUR school? But the apprehension soon got forgotten as they burst into song - songs of happiness and songs giving thsnks. The faces were smiling. The voices were strong and clear....and giving English their best shot.
Some were 12 year olds, much more knowledgeable and experienced than their younger brothers and sisters. Some were babes in arms - in the arms of their older sisters - some only a few years older than themselves. Some had sandels on their feet but most did not. Some were wearing relatively clean clothes, but most were not. Some were sure that something good was going to happen in the school that afternoon, but some were not.
When the singing and the words of welcome were spoken, the distribution of the new clothes to every child in the school began. These were not someone elses discarded used clothes, but brand new clothes still in ther cellophane wrappers. Some had experienced something new to wear before today, but most had not.
As the children squeezed their newly acquired clothes close to their body, they slowly returned to their newly painted benches and began singing thank you songs in the same rough English we had heard when we had entered. It was emotional - no doubt about it. It wasn't the new clothes that were important today. The clothes were just another attempt to help these young displaced children gain some dignity and help these children realize that there is more to life than parched earth, mud and straw huts with one room for large families, questionable water that came from old oil barrels welded together on donkey pulled carts, piles of garbage with paths cleared through them to get from place to place, and people out there somewhere that forced them to move further out into the desert every time they seemed to make new communities in which to live.
There are others out there somewhere that care that they can walk and play in good clothes, that they can respect themselves and each other, that not everyone out there is determined to treat them as less than human and that they can have access to a basic education that will allow the more determined of them to go on and realize that their dreams may actually be possible. And they will.
Now that we have seen the value of the program and seen the depth of the need, and that we can help, will we?
We all learned a lot today, and we were taught by young children.