Walking amidst the lush tall grasses of Eastern Equatoria State in Southern Sudan and looking at the peaceful verdant hills dotted with trees, it is hard to imagine the chaos and carnage that raged throughout the area from 1983 until 2005. After a generation of civil war, the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on January 9, 2005 ended armed hostilities between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Government of Sudan. The agreement created the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) controlled by the SPLM, and provided for a six-year interim period leading up to a referendum on independence that is due to take place on January 9, 2011.
Challenges to Peace
Since the signing of the CPA, some 320,000 refugees and 50,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned home to Southern Sudan. Re-establishing their communities has been no easy task. There is little modern infrastructure in the country, as development was stalled by more than twenty years of war. Returning refugees have had to relearn the skills of subsistence farming, growing cassava, maize and beans in the rich red soil, often competing for land and water with those people who stayed behind during the conflict. Gradually, peace has made possible the beginnings of improvement in education, health, and sanitation, although much remains to be done. Throughout this period, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has contributed to this development by building schools, supporting teacher training, providing school supplies, encouraging the education of girls and building the capacity of local communities to take charge of their own educational needs.