United Methodist Committee on Relief

More than Surviving in Sudan

Youssef Hassan has owned his own carpentry shop since completing an UMCOR vocational training course in 2012. PHOTO CREDIT: Linda UngerYoussef Hassan has owned his own carpentry shop since completing an UMCOR vocational training course in 2012. Photo credit: Linda Unger

By Linda Unger*

June 11, 2014—The busy sound of planers scratched the hot, dusty air of an outdoor market in El Daein Town in East Darfur State, Sudan. In a short series of stalls separated only by poles holding up a shared tin roof, carpenters were at work creating beautiful, functional household items. They were building their businesses and improving the quality of life of their families.

“Right now, I’m working on three orders: a cupboard, a bed with cupboard, and a display case,” said Youssef Hassan, 38, formerly a farmer and seasonal laborer, and now the owner of his own carpentry shop.

“I’ve owned my shop since 2012, when I completed a vocational training course with UMCOR,” the United Methodist Committee on Relief, he said. “I developed my skills and I learned a lot about first-time business management, including the importance of coming to work every day. Sometimes the market is slow, but I continue to work so I will have items ready for sale when it changes.”

Hassan’s business acumen and work ethic have translated into greater security for him and his family. “Now I have savings and a supply of furniture ready to be sold. If the market closed up tomorrow, I would still be able to survive,” he said.

His four children, who range in age from seven months to nine years, also have a better chance for a solid education. “The children used to study in a government school; now I can afford to send them to a private school,” Hassan said.

Comprehensive training for a secure future

Moussa Izak, 23, is a recent graduate of the carpentry program. PHOTO CREDIT: Linda Unger
Moussa Izak, 23, is a recent graduate of the carpentry program. Photo credit: Linda Unger

In the still volatile Darfur region, UMCOR provides conflict-affected persons with nine-month vocational training courses. UMCOR’s economic recovery work here counts on funding support from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, the Common Humanitarian Fund, and Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio.

Participants in the vocational training courses are those whose lives have been most disrupted by the conflict: internally displaced persons (IDP), those returning to their lands after a period of displacement, and those who, like Hassan, are unable to access their lands because of the violence.

According to the United Nations, since hostilities began in Darfur in 2003, about two million people have been displaced and 300,000 have died. Although the level of violence has declined since 2005, armed conflict continues to occur, whether between and among government and rebel groups or among different tribes over scarce natural resources.

Mohammed Kabir Mia, a Bangladeshi national and manager of UMCOR’s economic recovery work in Sudan, said, “UMCOR’s vocational training program is designed so that IDPs and returnees can acquire specific skills and afterward secure employment, especially self-employment,” he said.

“Before the conflict their lives may have been stable—most were farmers or cattle herders,” Mia said. But now they live in town and they need skills that are in demand in town—skills like carpentry, auto mechanics, tailoring and food processing—which allow them to improve their economic condition.”

A total of 120 youth and women are enrolled in the UMCOR training courses, which cover basic and advanced skills, business management and hands-on apprenticeships in East Darfur and South Darfur states. Literacy and numeracy classes also are available for those who require this extra support.

After participants conclude their apprenticeships, UMCOR provides them with a start-up toolkit relative to the trade they studied to facilitate the opening of their businesses. For Hassan, it was something he did not anticipate. “The training wound up giving me more than I expected,” he said.

Local partnerships

Thanks to an UMCOR partnership with DAL Group, a private Sudanese company, auto mechanic Adam Abdula Ibrahim learned to repair car engines. PHOTO CREDIT: Linda Unger
Thanks to an UMCOR partnership with DAL Group, a private Sudanese company, auto mechanic Adam Abdula Ibrahim learned to repair car engines. Photo credit: Linda Unger

UMCOR also is working with local entities, including the DAL Group, a private enterprise, to train people already in business, enhancing their skills and their ability to train others. These local business people in turn each agree to train another three people and may take on apprentices or teach some of the basic or advanced classes in UMCOR’s vocational training program.

So far, five young men have been trained by the DAL Group in auto mechanics. Adam Abdula Ibrahim, an auto mechanic with two employees, is one of them. His shop is just around a sandy corner from Hassan’s carpentry shop.

“Before, I didn’t know how to repair an engine. Now I do, thanks to the DAL Group training I received through UMCOR,” Ibrahim said. “I’m willing to host apprentices. And I already have offered some basic lessons in the UMCOR vocational training course.”

Five women who are currently studying food processing in an UMCOR program in South Darfur State also have been selected for further DAL Group training. They, too, in turn will each train three more people, and, so, multiply vocational preparedness and opportunities.

Broader vision of peace

UMCOR’s economic recovery program intersects with programs in other sectors such as food security, peace building, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), in an integrated effort to promote an environment of peace.

“When we select learners,” Mia said, “we do not consider any particular tribe but, rather, all the tribes are represented. The only criterion is whether they are IDPs, returnees or conflict-affected people. They may have conflicts among themselves, but in the classroom, they are all equal.”

In another aspect of its economic recovery program, UMCOR fosters income-generating groups among people who have returned to their communities after a period of displacement. It supplies each group of five persons—three men and two women—with a flouring machine, a hulling machine or an oil-making machine and provides training for the new business.

“We form a group, and all tribal people, all conflict-affected people can be part of the group,” Mia said. “Their objective is one: they need to increase their income.” And to do that, they work together.

Mia’s hope for peace in Darfur begins with each learner. “My vision is that the IDPs and returnees who participate in our trainings will become economically solvent, that their children will go to school and will not be child laborers, and that their income will be secure.”

Your gift to UMCOR Sudan Development Projects, Advance #184385, underwrites that vision.

*Linda Unger is senior writer of the General Board of Global Ministries. She recently traveled to Sudan to report on UMCOR programs there. 

Your gift to UMCOR Sudan Development Projects, Advance #184385, underwrites a vision of economic security in Sudan.