Scootin' Round the World travel blog

Dr. Jill and Old Fangak waves goodbye

Old Fangak kids







Villagers waiting for treatment at the clinic


I've updated photos from Old Fangak in Sudan. As I write this, the villagers of Old Fangak are going to the polls to (almost assuredly) vote to secede from Sudan and form their old country. We are watching the birth of a nation, and although the news reports look promising for a peaceful outcome (see links below), the threat of war still looms. After briefly living in this village, talking to its people, playing with the children, it would be heartbreaking to imagine a return to violence for the people of Southern Sudan. Just look at the photos of those kids!

South Sudanese voting in second day of landmark poll

One interesting prospect is what the South will do with their newfound oil wealth. I wrote a Compass piece article for the Anchorage Daily News about this subject which was published today (January 9th). Click on the link or you can read the full text of the article below.

My friend Ruben returned to Europe, but not after some strange events traveling with me in Thailand. I will try to post an entry soon.

Stakes are high in South Sudan referendum


Published: January 9th, 2011 05:52 PM

While recently volunteering in the remote village in Southern Sudan with the Alaska Sudan Medical Project, I had the opportunity to witness a country on the brink of history. After decades of civil war between Northern and Southern Sudan in which 2 million people were killed, a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, which led to today's referendum in which the people of South Sudan voted on whether to secede and form their own nation.

Alaska Sudan Medical Project is in this part of the world to support the work of Dr. Jill Seaman, a Bethel doctor who has been working in Sudan for 20 years and who recently received a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant for her tireless work in Old Fangak.

This year our team of volunteers was busy drilling a water well and constructing temporary shelters for medical refugees. On one side of our drill site we saw hundreds of Sudanese villagers line up every morning to see "Dr. Jill" for their daily treatment for kala-azar, a deadly parasitic epidemic that is ravaging the region.

On the other side of our drill site, a voter registration booth had been set up, with Sudanese volunteers manning the booths all day long as local and nearby villagers came to register for the referendum. The booth was mostly quiet, and I had been told that most villagers had already eagerly registered, some of them walking many miles for their chance to vote. The consensus seemed to be that the South would almost certainly vote to secede.

The stakes are high, and the fallout from the referendum could be enormous. The eyes of the world will be on Sudan, as the results could lead to a return to war. Southern Sudan contains most of the oil of the nation, and many fear that President Al-Bashir, who has been indicted on genocide charges by the International Criminal Court, will not easily cede control of the South's resources.

The people of Southern Sudan have survived decades of disease, war, famine and genocide and deserve the opportunity for sovereignty. As one of the poorest regions of the world, they also have a great opportunity to take control of their own destiny and provide a better life for their people. One key to this will be how their oil resources will be shared with the North and how the oil wealth will be taxed and distributed by the Government of South Sudan, or GOSS.

Dr. Jack Hickel, a local physician who founded Alaska Sudan Medical Project with a fellow group of volunteers, recently met with GOSS to discuss the possibility of the using "the Alaska model" as a way of sharing its oil resources with the people. Dr. Hickel met with the vice president and other top officials of GOSS about using a "commons" model similar to the Permanent Fund Dividend, which could have a tremendous impact of eliminating extreme poverty in the new country. Dr. Hickel reports that the government officials are receptive.

We hope the outcome of the referendum will be peaceful; President Al-Bashir has recently made remarks indicating that he will respect the outcome of the vote. Personally, I hope for a peaceful outcome so that I can have an opportunity to volunteer in Sudan again, as it was an amazingly rewarding experience.

As Alaskans, we can help support the people of Southern Sudan by letting our congressmen know that the United States needs to fully support the independence of Southern Sudan, reminding them of our own Declaration: "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government."

We can also share the story of the success of our Permanent Fund Dividend, a model of resource sharing that can be a powerful tool for helping these impoverished, forgotten people have their own opportunity for the dream of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

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