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A Town in Darfur, Sudan, Dubbed “Ohio Village”

by Karen Smith

A woman returns to Deriga, Sudan, with a child.
A woman returns to Deriga, Sudan, with a child.
Image by: Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church
Source: New World Outlook
Safe water is distributed to internally displaced persons at a water yard in Darfur.
Safe water is distributed to internally displaced persons at a water yard in Darfur.
Image by: Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church
Source: New World Outlook

New World Outlook, May/June 2009

Deriga, Sudan, is a small village in the southern part of the Darfur region. It was destroyed during a brutal scorched-earth attack by the "Janjaweed," a proxy militia group unleashed by the Sudanese government to fight Darfuri rebel groups and control villages after conflict broke out in the region in 2003. This conflict has killed approximately 300,000 people and displaced more than 2 million more. The United Nations has called Darfur’s plight the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

The village of Deriga was looted and burned, and its residents fled to neighboring towns and states to escape the violence. The town was almost empty and totally desolate, but the few elders who remained had not given up hope. They had heard about a project that drilled wells and brought clean water to villages like theirs in Darfur. The Sudan Project -- a partnership formed by Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) -- could resurrect a town, even one as desolate as Deriga.

The People Will Return

Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church is located in Tipp City, Ohio, just north of Dayton. In August 2008, Forbes magazine named Dayton one of the fastest-dying cities in the United States. Yet, since January 2005, Ginghamsburg has made a nearly $4 million humanitarian investment in southern Darfur through its outreach ministry called the Sudan Project. Part of this funding has literally enabled the resurrection of the village of Deriga.

Ginghamsburg’s work in the Darfur region, in partnership with UMCOR, has involved three primary projects since early 2005. A sustainable agriculture program has reached 70,000 people. A safe water and sanitation project is expanding to provide safe wells and water yards for 219,000 people by the close of 2010. And a child protection and development program is constructing schools and training teachers, leading to a school enrollment of 19,000 children since the program’s inception. Hearing of these efforts, a few remaining villagers from Deriga approached UMCOR staff members in the spring of 2008 to ask that their town be one of the beneficiaries of a water project.

UMCOR experts were initially dubious, for when they visited the site, little infrastructure was left. As a staff member of UMCOR Sudan admitted, "When we first visited Deriga, the few remaining villagers approached us to say that, if we drilled for water, the people would come back. Based on what we saw, we believed that it would be an expensive exercise for nothing. But they were persistent," he noted, "and they convinced us." The villagers were right. By the time drilling for the well started, the word had spread, and former villagers began to return.

By the time the borehole was complete, the population had swelled to 5,000. By the time the entire water yard was built, the village boasted a population of 12,000 -- many more people than had lived there before the conflict. Of course, this expanded population led to new challenges. The people who returned had nothing left with which to make a living. So the Sudan Project provided seeds, tools, and training to initiate an agricultural program. Next, when the people asked for schools, two permanent structures were built, and two more are in process.

At sites where project money is invested, UMCOR erects signs indicating that funding was provided by Ginghamsburg Church in Ohio. When UMCOR leaders visited Deriga in mid-November 2008, they learned that the villagers had renamed Deriga "Ohio Village."

Sustainable Agriculture

The Sudan Project’s sustainable agriculture program was started in 2005 with the proceeds from Ginghamsburg’s first Christmas Miracle Offering. With UMCOR’s stewardship, that $317,000 helped 5,209 families come back into the farming business. The program was also extended to an additional 1,700 households in 2008. Through both of those investments and through seed and tool redistribution, the project has touched the lives of nearly 68,000 people in Southern Darfur province over the past four years.

The word sustainable is key. The program was designed to ensure that the farmers would retain enough of their seeds to start the next year’s crop. In fact, the 2005 crop was so successful that families not only had food to eat and seeds to bank, but many of them were able to take produce to the market, raising funds to purchase the plows or donkeys they needed to enhance their productivity. One group that benefits from the Sudan Project is a Dinka tribe, originally from Southern Sudan, which was displaced into the Darfur region during the 20-year civil conflict between the north and south. Tribe members used the proceeds from their first crop to buy the release of more than 800 of their children from Darfuri landowners, who had accepted the children as indentured servants in payment for allowing the Dinkas to resettle on their land.

Child Protection and Development

The 5-year child protection and development program began in 2006 with Ginghamsburg UMC’s 2005 Christmas Miracle Offering. This multifaceted project keeps children safely in school, limiting their exposure to the violence that surrounds their communities and protecting them from conscription into armed militias.

Through the program for children:

  • temporary schools are being built within the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps for girls as well as boys. Education for girls is a key strategy since it is not common within the culture;
  • permanent schools are being constructed in the host villages near the IDP camps to generate good will among the refugees and the people native to the area who must now share their land with the IDP population;
  • kindergarten programs help to serve the youngest children and also provide students with  one meal a day;
  • life-skills training programs equip adolescent boys and girls, as well as women, with skill sets that can be used to earn a living. Skills for boys include masonry and carpentry, and those for girls and young women include sewing and food processing;
  • a variety of school supplies and sporting equipment is also being provided.

Safe Water and Sanitation

Safe water is the most critical health need in Darfur. Unsafe water results in poor health, disease, and outbreaks of violence over scarce resources. Common problems include humans and livestock sharing the same water sources and children traveling up to 8 miles (in one direction) by foot or donkey to collect unhealthy groundwater in 5-gallon jerry cans -- if water is available at all. The four-year safe water and sanitation program was initiated in 2007 from Ginghamsburg UMC’s 2006 Christmas Miracle Offering.

At the end of the four-year program, the goal is to have 14 water yards in place to support up to 220,000 Sudanese. A water yard consists of a borehole, generator, water pump, taps for human use, and separate troughs for animals. These water yards are being constructed near the camps and villages serving children in the Child Protection and Development Project so that children may remain in school rather than travel for hours each day through unsafe territory to retrieve water for their families.

The project is also constructing latrines in IDP camps and in targeted schools and conducting sanitation training sessions in villages served by the water project.

Living More Simply for Others

During each Advent season since 2004, Ginghamsburg’s senior pastor, the Rev. Mike Slaughter, has challenged Ginghamsburg’s members and participants to live more simply so that others can simply live. In taking this step, families seek to spend only half as much on Christmas as they would normally do and to offer the other half to the Christmas Miracle Offering for the Sudan Project. Despite the tough local and national economy and the impact of unemployment within the church family, the Advent 2008 offering garnered $725,749, adding to the $3 million that had been raised and invested from Advent 2005 through Advent 2007.

Ginghamsburg attendees understand that the gospel isn’t lived out if the poor are not served. Other churches, schools, and businesses have also been inspired to take compassionate action toward Darfur, with 26 partners from 10 states in 2008 providing $113,000 of the total.

Karen Smith is the Director of Communications and Global Initiatives at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio. Photos provided by Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church.


Date posted: May 01, 2009