Due to the wonders of modern technology, Mark Maciek can speak directly to his relatives back in war-ravaged eastern Africa.
Due to an ongoing tragedy, the South Sudanese refugee hears disturbing news when he calls.
“They are hungry,” said Maciek during a fundraising event in an inner city Winnipeg church to raise money to help desperate South Sudanese refugees survive an epic famine.
“I have to support them.”
Famine is gripping millions of people in east-central Africa, as ongoing civil war in the new nation of South Sudan has caused waves of terrified refugees to flood over the Ugandan and Ethiopian borders. It exacerbates a decades-old situation of poverty and persecution that provoked earlier waves of refugees like Maciek to flee.
The South Sudanese event was organized by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank at the end of June to help raise money to take advantage of federal government dollar-for-dollar grants that were temporarily available.
The foodgrains bank is known in farming and rural areas, as well as by more than a dozen churches that support the charity. This event was a chance for the charity to focus its energy on a human disaster that is getting comparatively little attention, even though it is being described as the largest humanitarian disaster since 1945.
“We can make a difference,” said retired Anglican priest Cathy Campbell.
“Canadians can make a difference, if we act.”
The foodgrains bank operates a range of overseas efforts with money it raises from farmers, churches and other Canadians. Some are attempts at improving struggling people’s farming skills. Others, like this, involve getting emergency aid and support to those in crisis.
The brutal realities of refugee life were described by South Sudanese women at the event, some of whom saw their children die during the odyssey.
“Scorpions at night; disease; cholera…; malaria,” said Rebecca Deng, a South Sudanese refugee who has helped establish a support centre in South Sudan.
“The worst, worst is when you see the young child, a baby, in a mother’s lap … and then the child passes away.”
Deng arrived in Winnipeg after fleeing from Sudan in 1983 and arriving in Ethiopia as one of 23,000 “lost girls and lost boys.”
She’s now helping organize Winnipeg-based and Canada-based aid for her homeland, but with an estimated 2,000 people fleeing per day, and 20 million people in the famine zone, the task is daunting.
The federal matching funding ended at the end of June, but the Canadian Foodgrains Bank is still raising money to help.
The lack of attention to the famine was noted by a number of speakers at the event, and there was little coverage in local media, but foodgrains bank staff and volunteers and the South Sudanese people said they would keep up their efforts.
“I cannot be quiet if I am here,” said Deng.