A special focus of the pilot project in South Sudan will be to empower Lasu communities to become participants in the planning and development of their own community needs. Photo: Hannah Hanson
Saratoga Springs UMC kicks-off support for new UMCOR South Sudan development project
By Susan Kim*
March 8, 2016—The more Rev. Drew Sperry and his congregation learned about the world’s youngest country — South Sudan — the more they wanted to help people in war-torn communities as they restored their everyday lives after decades of violence.
“We knew UMCOR [United Methodist Committee on Relief] was starting a new project, and people we talked to were passionate about trying to get it started,” explained Sperry, associate pastor at Saratoga Springs United Methodist Church (UMC) in New York.
Though UMCOR has been working for a decade in parts of what is now South Sudan, a new project, “Yei’s Voice,” is underway.
The Yei River County in South Sudan has nominal infrastructure and social services due to years of civil war and continued conflict. UMCOR has embarked on a new community engagement and development project in South Sudan that will help Lasu Payam, a district of the county, identify its needs, make a plan to meet them, and sustain the community.
As members of Saratoga Springs UMC learned more about the needs in South Sudan, they felt moved to become the first donor to kick off the project.
“Our mission chair came up to me and said she’d like to raise $1,000 to give to UMCOR’s work in South Sudan,” said Sperry. The congregation ended up surpassing its goal, raising $1,500. Then they donated the money during a time when UMCOR pledged to “match” donations with an equal contribution, so $3,000 went directly to South Sudan’s most vulnerable people.
“When I look at what our funds are accomplishing, I believe all our churches need to be doing this," said Sperry.
Strengthening local leaders
|Women gather with their children and wait to be seen by a doctor at the Nyori Primary Health Care Unit in Yei River County, South Sudan. Photo: Hannah Hanson
The project in South Sudan is a great example of how UMCOR doesn’t just sweep in and take over a community but, instead, asks a community what it needs, explained Cephas Munjeri, head of mission for UMCOR’s country office in South Sudan. “We are asking communities to help develop their own development plans," he explained.
UMCOR is not only helping residents of South Sudan today, it is ensuring that communities can take the lead in sustaining their own development by choosing to focus on any of these sectors: agriculture and food security; economic recovery and livelihoods; water, sanitation, and hygiene; education; or disaster risk reduction.
“This is a response to the actual community needs, and not an imposition on the community,” said Munjeri. “If the community is the one that develops these plans, it can then carry out the whole project and sustain the project effectively.”
Church support critical for success
UMCOR continues to seek churches to help fund its latest efforts in the world’s youngest nation. “When I visited South Sudan last year, I was inspired by the hope and energy for the country’s future that I witnessed at the grassroots level,” said Hannah Hanson, UMCOR gifts and church relations manager.
“Yei’s Voice is plugged into that energy. But it can’t launch without the prayers and gifts of United Methodist churches,” she continued. Hanson detailed that the project still needs to raise $83,000 this year to get started, and then will need additional support over the next three years to see it through.
“This is such a great opportunity for churches to learn about and help a country that, at the community level, has such tremendous excitement for the future,” she said. “Churches that donate to Yei’s Voice will be walking alongside our South Sudan sisters and brothers on an inspiring new path.”
UMCOR is working in coordination with the ongoing work of our secular and faith-based partners in Yei River County. Congregations that feel led to support Yei’s Voice can contact Hannah Hanson at email@example.com. Your gifts now to South Sudan Development, Advance #3021793, will support Yei’s Voice and other UMOR projects in the world’s newest country.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.