South Sudan: JRS involvement winds down as communities take over

Deogratias M. Rwezaura SJ

Former Regional Director, Eastern Africa
Friday, August 03, 2012

South Sudan, 3 August 2012 – At the end of 2012, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) will officially close the last of its four current projects in South Sudan. The decision to exit from these successful projects, which focus on education, pastoral accompaniment and peace building, was made in line with the JRS mandate of attending to the needs of the forcibly displaced in situations of great need. Now that the returnees, largely from refugee camps in Uganda, have settled and been empowered by JRS, the time has come to hand over ownership of the projects to the local communities. As the projects close, the process is underway to discern how best JRS can respond to the unfolding refugee crisis in other parts of the country.

JRS first started working in South Sudan in 1997 in Nimule, assisting people internally displaced by the civil war. Coordinated by the Juba country office, further projects followed in Kajo Keji and Lobone in 2001, and then Yei in 2004. During the war many people had fled the country to Uganda, and so as peace dawned, JRS expanded its work and adapted its projects to respond to the needs of the refugees as they returned home, accompanying and serving them as they started to rebuild their lives.

Robust and sustainable systems

JRS believes that timely withdrawal from a project is as important as addressing the initial need. One year on from the birth of South Sudan as an independent nation, and the areas where JRS is working are stable and developing. The schools we have constructed and rehabilitated are doing well. The education systems JRS has put in place are robust and sustainable, and our teacher training programme has had a very positive impact on the quality of education in the schools. Adult literacy rates have increased for women and men. Communities have come together in peace building efforts, and a huge network of JRS peace clubs has been established. Many new catechists have been trained and local church groups have benefited from vocational skills training.

For JRS, the time has come to leave, safe in the knowledge that the foundations are there for continued growth, learning and success.

The first projects to close will be Lobone and Nimule at the end of August. Closing ceremonies for both will mark the occasion and celebrate the successes. Kajo Keji and Yei will close at the end of 2012. JRS will document the lessons learned and the successes in a commemorative newsletter focusing on education in South Sudan. This will be published in early 2013.

For now, it remains for me to say a heartfelt thank you to all beneficiaries, donors, partners, staff and volunteers as we progress through this period of closure and reflect on JRS’s many positive achievements in South Sudan.