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Church of Sudan Builds Peace, Serves Returning Refugees During Country's Transition

[1/27/2011] During the week of January 9, Southern Sudanese living throughout the country and even overseas cast their ballots in a historic referendum to decide whether the South would secede. This referendum was the culmination of the five-year Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which marked the official end of the country's decades-long civil war. Early results indicate that, with over 85% of registered voters casting ballots, nearly 99% of voters living in the South voted for partition. The referendum is expected to pass overwhelmingly when the final result is officially announced on February 14.

While voting in the South was generally hailed as free, fair and credible by election observers, voters in the border region between North and South were prevented from casting their ballots by violent clashes. According to The Most Rev. Daniel Deng Bul, Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS), "Civil unrest in this area rages on and is certainly one of the biggest threats to national security, which has inevitably hampered referendum preparation to the extent that talks have reached a stalemate."

In response to this unrest, the Archbishop has commissioned a team that will travel to seven border localities, talking with community leaders and beginning the process of peace-making. Episcopal Relief & Development is supporting these initial assessment visits, which will generate information, build relationships, and identify humanitarian needs that will be key to the reconciliation process.

"There is uncertainty in the border region now," said Janette O'Neill, Program Officer for Episcopal Relief & Development. "Elsewhere in southern Sudan, where the referendum voting passed peacefully, there is jubilation and relief. But in Abyei and other communities along the border, things are much more tense. It is crucial that we continue to support the Church's work during this transitional phase in the country's history."

Episcopal Relief & Development works with the ECS and its relief and development arm, SUDRA (the Sudanese Development and Relief Agency). Recently, this partnership has been helping returning refugees meet their basic needs as they seek to re-establish homes and a new life in their former homeland.

Since 2009, Episcopal Relief & Development has been supporting farming initiatives for refugees who have returned to their home regions but no longer possess the agricultural expertise or tools needed to grow food for their families. A model farm managed by SUDRA helps local residents learn new planting techniques and grow produce to improve their families' diets.

Episcopal Relief & Development is also helping SUDRA provide relief to the flood of refugees who traveled south in the days and weeks before the referendum took place. In one such response to this great need, the Rt. Rev. Alapayo Manyang has headed up an effort in the Diocese of Rumbek to provide people with shelter, food, water cans and sleeping mats. He was also able to secure a few acres of land from the government where returning families have set up camp. Returnees also receive tools and seeds, which will help them begin to work the land and grow grains and vegetables.

Aside from providing assistance to refugees and supporting development projects, the ECS is actively engaged in civic education and conflict resolution. Dioceses conducted civic education workshops before the referendum to explain the importance of voting, how the referendum would take place, and the effects of both possible outcomes. The ECS is also doing tremendous work to support peace-building between rival groups, especially in the volatile border regions between the North and South. In the week before voting began on the referendum, Archbishop Deng Bul helped broker a cease-fire agreement between militia leader Lt. Gen. George Athor and the Sudan People's Liberation Army in the southern state of Jonglei. Episcopal Relief & Development will continue supporting the Church's efforts to bring lasting peace to the border areas, beginning with the upcoming series of assessment visits and continuing with longer-term response.

To learn more about Episcopal Relief & Development's programs or make a contribution, visit www.er-d.org, or call 1.800.344.7626 ext.5129. Contributions can be mailed to Episcopal Relief & Development, PO Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058.

Episcopal Relief & Development is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church of the United States. As an independent 501(c) (3) organization, Episcopal Relief & Development takes its mandate from Jesus' words found in Matthew 25. Its programs work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Together with the worldwide Church and ecumenical partners, Episcopal Relief & Development strengthens communities today to meet tomorrow's challenges. We rebuild after disasters and empower people by offering lasting solutions that fight poverty, hunger and disease, including HIV/AIDS and malaria.



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