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Signs of hope among refugees in South Sudan

20 June 2024

On World Refugee Day, Rachel Lindley explains how savings groups are empowering displaced people in South Sudan

Five Talents UK

From left: Anne Figge, Five Talents Global Programmes Team, Savings Group members Amande and Zola (names have been changed), and the co-CEO of Five Talents UK, Rachel Lindley, in Aweil, South Sudan

From left: Anne Figge, Five Talents Global Programmes Team, Savings Group members Amande and Zola (names have been changed), and the co-CEO of Five Ta...

CONFLICT in Sudan is estimated to have claimed 150,000 lives since April 2023. The United Nations says that the country is experiencing the largest displacement crisis anywhere in the world, with nine million people forced from their homes in search of safety and a better life. Many have relocated to safer areas within the country, but a significant number of refugees have travelled to bordering countries such as South Sudan.

This year, on UN World Refugee Day (20 June), the importance of remembering and honouring the strength and courage of those forced to flee their homes is as important as ever. But it is important not simply to remember, but also, together, to bring the power of what we have to make a difference.

Over the past two weeks, I have been meeting programme partners and Savings Group members in South Sudan: a country that now has an increasing number of displaced people from across the border, and is still facing the challenges, traumas, and economic impacts from its own recent civil war.

In communities that already carry such a heavy burden of social injustice, with people’s memories still fresh from their own conflict and internal displacement, the arrival of refugees from Sudan brings new challenges.

For example, in places such as Aweil, I visited communities that are feeding and housing not only people fleeing from the crisis in Sudan, but are still recovering themselves from the huge number of internally displaced people within their own region.

THROUGHOUT my journey, I have been hearing first hand from Savings Group members and programme partners, listening to their stories and reflections on the impacts of recent events.

Even in the midst of it all, there are signs of hope and empowerment. In what seems an overwhelming situation, where the pressure on lives and livelihoods is at breaking point, Savings Groups are enhancing lives and offering those affected by displacement, either from within the country or from across the border, an anchor point within their new community.

Members have told me their stories about how Savings Groups support community cohesion and help build social bonds; a reality that has huge significance in low resource environments and communal cultures, and is helping to ease the disruption and fragmentation caused by displacement.

Amande, a member of a Savings Group, told me: “I went to Khartoum in 2016, when there was conflict here in South Sudan, and returned in 2023 because of the war. We came empty handed, but found people here in Savings Groups and started a business. Now, it is easier to get food. Before, we had to wait for the UN; it was hard, you have to wait a long time. My friends and my group enabled me to reach where I am.”

I met Zola, and she also told her story. “I went to Khartoum in 2012. We lived near the military centre where war broke out in April 2023. I was shot. My family put me on a chair on a donkey and we fled to South Sudan via the western border.

“A month later, I heard my husband had been killed in Sudan and my last born sister, too. I was traumatised. The group came and spoke to me, and gave me a loan of 10,000 SSP (£5) though I was not a member. My old house is still here but they bought grass so I could rethatch it. I joined the group and took a loan to start a groundnut business as it is popular, but in Sudan I had a restaurant and it’s my dream to revive it here. I will take a loan and use the share out for that.

“I have one son still in Sudan. The other children are here with me. The group’s encouragement and support has kept me going. They talk to me when I am lonely and depressed. It’s not just about the money. God is here.”

ON PROGRAMME visits such as these, you have to be very aware of power dynamics and of “Doing No Harm”; but you cannot aim to decolonise without strong relationships and improved understanding — both of which, paradoxically, need in-person visits.

On this World Refugee Day, as I reflect on the amazing conversations that I have had, and the inspirational women I have met, I leave with a renewed sense of hope. Despite the enormity of the challenges they face as refugees, Amande and Zola’s* stories show members are learning, earning, saving, and investing; and, together, they are also building peace in their community.

Rachel Lindley is Co-CEO of Five Talents UK Five Talents, an Anglican microfinance charity, founded as a Christian response to global poverty. Five Talents works with a network of community partners who provide savings schemes alongside literacy and business training for communities who have been marginalised around the world.
Savings Group members save together, and from their own accumulated funds, make loans to one another. They are community-led and sustainable: they elect their own board and set their own rules (including interest rates for loans). Interest is returned to the Group’s cumulative savings and shared as dividends to members at the end of the year.


* Names have been changed to protect privacy

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