Anok Awer squints her eyes as she speaks. It’s as if she is blinded by the glare of her neon yellow t-shirt – rather than the brutal South Sudanese sun beating directly onto her face; a year-round sensation that goes without complaint.
With a wrinkled forehead, as if matter of fact, she explains, “We now face a shortage of food. Currently we are dealing with the drought from last year.”
Positioned between a semi-seasonal river and a dry-season garden, Anok fidgets, clearly uncomfortable with the heat and subject matter. Visible beads of sweat roll down her weathered face, “It is very difficult to get money. The only way is to make wine out of dura.”
As far back as history reveals, the people of South Sudan have been agro-pastoral. This means they are both farmers and keepers of livestock.
Prior to Sudan’s 20 year horrendous civil war that rocked, and ultimately split the country, seasons of hunger was a scarcely identified issue. The Sudanese people had naturally adapted their methods of farming to survive the heat and lack of rain. Because life was generally peaceful, committing to farming one’s land was easily sustainable.
The war in Sudan killed roughly 2 million people and displaced more than 4 million. It depleted the country of a shared nationhood and any sort of infrastructure.
Amid the chaos of the war, the Sudanese ability to successfully farm year round was tragically lost.
Hiding in the bush, fleeing outside of the country, and living in Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, the war left the people of southern Sudan no opportunity to practice long-term cultivation. Rather than relying on natural self-sufficiency, most were forced into a life of dependency.
Unfortunately, the dependency mentality remains present in Anok and her dry-season farming group.
During, and post, the war, food and water were provided in the form of handouts and aid. Survival was determined by the work and assistance of someone else. Over time relying on relief, as it was often the only option, transformed into a pattern of life. Most tragically, it became deeply engraved in the Sudanese cultural mentality.
Living with her husband and five children in Mading Akot, a very rural village outside of Lietnhom, located miles away from clean water and any sign of infrastructure, Anok laments her failing farm.
“We work with World Concern in this farm but we face so many challenges. The pests and cows are destroying our fence and crops.”
Currently, one of World Concern’s most prominent projects in South Sudan entails training, equipping, and empowering families in the area of dry season farming. In order to promote building and learning in community, the training occurs in small groups on a shared plot of land. These groups learn to cultivate and harvest a medley of produce, including tomatoes and kudera (a hearty leafy-green vegetable), that can survive the drastic heat and lack of copious hydration.
According to Anok, “World Concern teaches us that if we really do this farm, it will eradicate poverty in our community. It will help us get money for our village and children.”
Just a 20 minute walk down the road from Mading Akot, another World Concern farming group can be found digging and watering their bounteous, healthy crops. Though the group has received a replica training and tools to that of Anok’s, their fence remains standing and their harvest is plentiful enough to take home, store, and sell in the local market.
Though, even with quality training, farming during the dry-season is no easy task, there’s another reason for Anok’s group’s failure: lack of ownership.
When asked why her land was not producing, Anok slowly lowers her chin, requesting more seeds and tools, and showing no interest in fixing what has already been broken. Her relationship to the farm, and her group, is evidently surface level – she shows few signs personal responsibility.
Though ownership is a complex concept to teach – particularly to those who have spent the majority of their lives in IDP camps, dependent and surviving on handouts- ownership is an absolutely necessary component of holistic transformation. It is the winning factor in the debate over empowering versus enabling.
World Concern believes in empowering.
And though administering relief is invaluable in times of crisis, in a case like Mading Akot, a handout would inevitably give way to another reason for the people to avoid doing work themselves.
In order for Anok’s farm to be as successful as her neighbor’s down the road, she must first believe in herself; she must take ownership of the fact that, ultimately, she is the one who can improve and transform her life, her family, and her community.
All of this is not to say that Anok is less capable than anyone else – it is to say that a shift in mindset will make or break the quality of a harvest – no matter how incredible World Concern’s tools and trainings. And this can be said of mindsets worldwide.
World Concern hasn’t given up on Anok, and we have no intentions of doing so. In fact, we are thankful for Anok’s story because it is a reminder that transformation requires more than a simple formula, a straightforward five-step program involving manicured handouts and quick lessons.
Transformation requires commitment, both from our staff as well as the beneficiaries involved. And, most importantly, it requires that every individual involved recognizes that he or she is both capable and empowered.