The standard of life in South Sudan is so far behind modern society that it dreams to one day reach Third World status, says the head of a missions group that works in the region.
So if South Sudan voted to secede from the North in the January referendum, it would need “a lot of external help,” warns Bill Deans, president of Mustard Seed International.
“For the past three generations they’ve been in war. Every family is touched by that,” reports Deans, whose organization ministers to the "least of these."
“There is a great number of orphans, the infrastructure in the South is non-existent, there are no pave roads, thus the ability for the South to sustain itself is not there,” he adds.
Deans also emphasizes how there are no education or medical infrastructures in the region.
“It is going to take a lot of external help for that to happen over a period of time,” Deans says. “They have been so isolated for the past 25 years.”
Sudan is just four months away from a critical referendum in which the South can vote to break away from the North.
For more than 21 years, the predominantly Muslim North and the animist and Christian South fought in a bloody civil war that left some 2 million civilians dead and more than 4 million people displaced. The war also destroyed an estimated 500 churches in Southern Sudan.
In 2005, however, the two sides signed the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the war. The CPA called for a government of national unity to be formed for a transitional period of six years. After this time, the South could vote to be autonomous. Many analysts expect the south to vote for independence on January 9, 2011.
It is amid the desperate need for medical care after years of war that Mustard Seed International established the Akot Medical Mission in 2006. The clinic is literally in the middle of the brush – where there is not even a grocery store nearby – and provides the only medical care in the area.
“For us to build this facility was nothing short of a miracle,” says Deans, who noted the only building material on the site was the dirt. Every other material – from cement to nails – for the clinic was trucked or flown in from Kenya or Uganda.
“It is just a miracle that a facility like that can exist in the bush of South Sudan,” he remarks. “The people say it is the best facility in the whole country. But we have nothing to gauge that on because we have not been all over the country.”
In South Sudan, there is an average of one doctor per 100,000 people.
According to a report published by UNICEF in 2004, the infant mortality rate in South Sudan is 15 percent while the child mortality rate is 25 percent. About one in nine mothers die during pregnancy or childbirth and only five percent of births are attended by trained health care workers. The malnutrition rate, meanwhile, stands at 48 percent and severe malnutrition is over 21 percent. A U.N. official recently called South Sudan the hungriest place on earth.
Every year, the Akot Medical Mission provides direct medical attention to more than 30,000 people.
But Deans notes how very expensive it is to operate the clinic because of the transportation costs. He says it costs $10,000 to fly in $10,000-worth of medicine. MSI’s total budget for the South Sudan operation, however, is only $300,000. And for the past two years, the MSI board decided to shift funds to help the clinic stay open despite shortfall.
“We are a small organization,” says Deans, who became Mustard Seed International’s president in 2002 on the condition that all the staff work as volunteers. “We get it done. We don’t have the big publicity budget.”
Despite the constant financial struggle to keep the operation in “off-the-radar” South Sudan going, Deans says he finds his job “rewarding” and “good.”
“I’m working harder than I ever worked in my life running businesses,” he jokes.