My dear Australians,
While my story may be familiar to a few it will be unknown to many. One thing is clear to me – the entire world is in peril. Third world countries are dangerously messing up, while the financially disadvantaged and the victims of civil wars including the orphans, widows, widowers and the disabled are unquestionably hopeless, homeless, friendless and at high risk of extermination.
Perhaps you have recently seen something on TV or a friend or neighbour has whispered something terrible in your ear. This troubles you and you spend your day badly disturbed or hurt. But this is nothing compared to the terrifying war actually taking place in South Sudan. Have you seen a video or pictures of people being mercilessly killed, burned in their huts/or houses, women being gang-raped, children being mutilated? Do you see dead bodies being buried in mass graves, not the result of a tsunami or earthquake? This is not a bad Hollywood movie or bad dream. This is real. It is happening today in South Sudan where almost a third of the population are now orphans and widows. It was my country.
My name is Deng Bul, also known as John Deng. I am a husband and the father of four lovely girls aged 7, 5 (twins) and 1. I did not start well in life. In 1987, when I was nine, I was separated from my parents, forced out by war with several other thousands of children my age. We fled South Sudan and trekked through jungles to Ethiopia where we spent the next four years. In 1991 we fled Ethiopia due to another civil war there. This time we trekked back to South Sudan and across the border, settling in Kakuma refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya in 1992 (See me cooking, Photograph #3 attached).
In 1993 I made yet another dangerous journey back to South Sudan in an attempt to trace my family. Instead, I was captured and recruited into the Sudan Liberation Army, the SPLA, at age 13. I served for six years. With the little education I had acquired, during this time I helped people whenever I could by working with relief agencies including ICRC, MEDAIR and Association of Christian Resource Organisation Serving Sudan (ACROSS). Fortunately in 1997 I met Doris Lempenauer, who worked with Medair and, through trust, friendship and compassion, offered to pay for my studies at a school in Kenya from 2001 through to 2004. Had I not met Doris, I could not predict what my life would have been like, or even if I would still be alive today. What I do know with certainty is that I am a testimony to her generosity and kindness. I migrated to Australia in 2004.
While I partook in that brutal civil war, I always had the hope that one day, when the war was over, both regions of the Sudan would look back and establish peaceful societies where vulnerable people would be cared for and consoled. Unfortunately this has not happened and I remain devastated, watching South Sudan once more in the cycle of killing and maiming. This time, it is killing itself while ignoring the grievances maintained against the North for half a century. This renewed armed violence is producing even greater numbers of defenceless and vulnerable groups. To the South Sudanese, a man is not only the provider of food and security, he also provides a sense of belonging to his family. Both children and mother look to him, with hope, for purpose. Thus, losing a man is not just an isolated devastating occurrence. It leaves a woman and her children susceptible to all sort of insecurities including gang-rape, acquiring a sexually-transmitted disease, chronic poverty and starvation.
I find it indefensible that these widows and orphans must continue to struggle to survive, desperate for peace, but all to no avail. That is why my family and I and a few other friends have founded the integrated Help and Opportunities for Peaceful Existence – iHOPE Inc. The integrated Help and Opportunities for Peaceful Existence-iHOPE Inc. initiative is a combination of projects purposely designed to empower the orphans, widows, widowers and disabled back home in South Sudan. It is initially focusing on inclusive scholarships for orphans and vocational training for widows, widowers and the disabled. We have already sponsored three (3) orphans during the first half of 2017 and we look forward to sponsoring ten (10) more next year should we acquire the necessary funds. We are taking this initiative because with improved education, vocational training and other skills and experience, widows and orphans can respond to their day-to-day problems in a more mature and responsible manner. The aim is to restore HOPE to the hopeless while creating a better everyday life for the financially disadvantaged families across South Sudan.
A second reason for founding the integrated Help and Opportunities for Peaceful existence-iHOPE Inc. is that successful settlement of South Sudanese families in Australia is inextricably linked to peace and improving living standards for the financially disadvantaged families, relatives and friends back home in South Sudan. The South Sudanese extended family traditionally includes uncles, aunts, grandparents, mothers, children, cousins, nephews and nieces. Culturally the head of the family (husband and wife) are obliged to treat all members of their extended family equally and failing to do so brings shame upon the whole family. These family members in South Sudan are looking to us in Australia for assistance, and we must not fail to respond to their needs. Thus, the South Sudanese community here is already investing a great part of their present income to ensure that their relatives overseas can attend school, pay their rent and afford medical care. This sacrifice frequently causes financial hardship here in Australia.
Therefore, we ask you, our brothers, sisters and friends, to donate your time and money so that we can send orphans to school. By giving, through service or donation, to integrated Help and Opportunities for Peaceful existence-iHOPE Inc., you are helping to restore hope to the poorest of the poor. Please join us in giving the orphans and widows a reason to smile once more. Visit our website to see our projects, raise funds for us, print this letter on your local paper or organise media interview or speaking opportunity at your church, school, business or network group or donate. More importantly, we urge you to trust us with your donation. We promise you, the donor, that your gift will be equitably and transparently used to help provide opportunities to those in greatest need. In return, we will provide you with continuous updates about our achievements and progress.
Finally, it is certain that any crisis of this magnitude will be unnerving, will create uncertainty, and at some point, will tempt us to procrastinate. But as Jesus did, let’s help the afflicted to help themselves. I am aware that no one is going to begin steering this car until it is moving, so, we are already contributing and moving towards meeting our objectives.
I end this letter with the following quote: I have held many things in my hands and I lost them all. But whatever I have placed in God’s hands that I still possess. Martin Luther, German reformer and theologian. Even though the South Sudanese orphans have lost all that they hold dear in their hearts – their parents, their pride and dignity and their security – they have placed their future in God’s hands and in your hands. I believe that through your love and compassion, they will possess it once again.
May the Almighty God, the giver, pour His blessing upon you always. Thank you.
Deng Bul, CEO/President