After literally years of wanting and trying to visit the Seed Effect team on the ground in South Sudan we finally made it! (If you don’t know Seed Effect the micro-finance ministry in South Sudan you might want to read: What is Seed Effect, Our South Sudan Visa Journey and South Sudan Here We Come). We new about micro-finance but we were ready to see it in action. We met up with Drew Mosier, Seed Effects Dallas based state-side Executive Director in Entebbe, Uganda and headed to a little air stripe between Entebbe and Kampala. After an interesting “baggage screening” (unpack everything) we meet our pilot, Dallas, and the 4 of us climbed into the only 4 seats on the plane! I got to play co-pilot. We taxied down the dirt runway and we were up, up, up and away for our two-hour flight to Arua, Uganda.
We arrived in Aura just in time to find out that we were going to have a two, no maybe three… no, no, make that a four-hour layover while our next (and bigger) plane went and dropped off some other people that were headed to a different part of South Sudan before coming back to take us to Kajo Keji (KK), and the Seed Effect headquarters. We briefly entertained the idea of walking into town but the security guy with the gun at the gate to airport didn’t think it was a good idea to leave the airport grounds and suggested we enjoy the “canteen” on the airport grounds (we didn’t argue it’s one of our travel rules… “Don’t argue with guys with big guns”). We passed the time catching up with Drew, playing dominos, getting a briefing on South Sudan and watching the lizards catch bugs. Before long our plane was back and we were flying the short 45 minutes to KK!
Our plane landed Kajo Keji International Airport, aka the dirt strip at the edge of town and we were greeted by what seemed like a hundred kids surrounding the plane and greeting us with “Hi-eeeeeee…!” In the middle of them all was Scovia Kiden, the South Sudan Country Director for Seed Effect, with some of the team to greet us and take us to the office. We piled into a Land Cruiser and down the dirt road into town. We arrived at the office and meet the team then it was on the compound where we’d be staying for our time in KK. Compound sounds more exciting that it is, it was the local pastor’s house and everyone seems to call any group of buildings with a wall around it a compound in South Sudan.
The pastor’s compound had one of the few water wells in the area so there were always kids running in and out all day every day with jugs of all kinds to fill up and carry home. We took our turn playing “water pump” a few times over the course of the next few days and the kids seems to like it when we pumped as the jugs seemed to multiple very quickly when I was pumping water… or maybe I’m just a lot slower at it than they are.
The next few days were a whirlwind of meeting with the team, with clients, hearing stories of life change, training, learning and encouragement; and a lot of getting used to the speed of life in rural Africa. One of the first things we learned was “gayla-tot” which is what all the kids yelled at us if they weren’t yelling “Hi-eeeeeee…” it loosely, and affectionately, translates to “white person.” We got a lot of that; driving down the road, walking through the market pretty much everywhere. Kids would run out to the road and wave at us as we drove by yelling “Gayla-tot. Gayla-tot.” Then we would wave and they would yell “Hi-eeeeee!”
We visited a bunch of the markets around KK and met a number of Seed Effect clients. Some were on their ninth or tenth loan cycle while others were just starting their first or second loan cycle with Seed Effect. They all had amazing stories full of suffering and hardship but full of hope and optimism as well. They want to see their country healed. We heard stories of fleeing the violence and instability of a civil war and ongoing conflicts, of families being lost in refugee camps and stories of uncertainty. But we also heard stories of healing, of kids that can now go to school, of communities being stabilized, and stories of life change. Part of Liz and I’s goal for our time in South Sudan was to document some of the stories of Seed Effect clients and share them with the world. We’ve got number we plan to share of the next few months on Seed Effect’s blog so stay tuned.
The Seed Effect team had asked if we could lead some team training on a number of topics. Liz saw a perfect opportunity to work Brinker’s and “big rocks” analogy into her training class on “Goals and Priorities” and of course there were plenty of rocks to work with. And what team training would be complete without a seminar on “Feedback is Priceless?” She did a wonderful job and had the team totally engaged. She can now add internationally known development speaker to her already overflowing résumé.
I was volun-told that I would be preaching on Sunday, which was nice of Drew to tell me in advance because he said on his first trip he only found out that the American visitors were always expected to “Give the Word” when they called him up to preach so I was extremely thankful for the day or so I was able to prepare in advance as well as for Join the Journey and their daily devotions to inspire me to speak on Abraham and Isaac from Genesis 22… luckily for y’all the mango tree the church meet under didn’t have any recording equipment so we won’t be posting my “sermon” here.
Over and over throughout our time in Kajo Keji I was constantly reminded of 1 Peter 3:15 “…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” It seemed as if the Seed Effect team always had the gospel on the tip of their tongue, the Word of God seasoned all of their conversations; it was truly encouraging, and more than a little convicting.
The second leg of our trip was a scouting expedition to Yei, which is one of the towns Seed Effect is considering for it’s third branch in South Sudan. Yei is considered by many the most stable part of South Sudan and it shows, people and groups are flocking to Yei, it’s main market was HUGE! We met with a number of groups and individuals that are based in Yei to get an idea if Seed Effect would be a good fit for the community. And three flights and another four-hour layover at the “canteen” in Arua later we were back at the airstrip outside Entebbe hugging Drew bye and jumping in a car to Kampala.
Liz and I talk a lot about expectation these days, as we travel always wondering what the next village/country/place to sleep will be like and South Sudan was everything I expected and at the same time nothing like I expected. There were no bullets whizzing overhead but we heard stories from other parts of the country where the bullets still regularly fly. There is practically no infrastructure, no paved roads, electricity in most places is own your own with solar panels and generators and the water is pumped by hand from a well. The people are warm and inviting and proud of what they are doing. Clients view Seed Effect as a company they are choosing to give their business to, but also as part of their family. Maybe I just didn’t know what to expect but I was totally blown away.
God is working in South Sudan and he is using Seed Effect.