MISSION LETTER FROM STEVE AND DIANTHA HODGES, SOUTH SUDAN (Feb. 2013)
Dear Friends and Supporters: It's been a long time since we took the time to write to you about our mission work in South Sudan; much has been happening, as we describe below! And there's about to be an important change in Steve's status (though not Diantha's) so please read this newsletter to the end to find out.
DIANTHA'S WORK: SAVING LIVES AT BIRTH
Diantha's work has continued to focus on saving lives of both mothers and babies at birth, as South Sudan has the greatest numbers of deaths in the world. Many if not most women prefer to give birth at home alone. If they seek help outside the family, they call the local untrained Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA). A few go to government clinics scattered throughout the region. People have little understanding of the causes of complications or what to do; if they seek help it is sometimes too late, or distances/road conditions/costs too much. Our efforts are trying to change this situation!! We now have a team including Joice and Monica, two South Sudanese, and Dr. Lynn and Dr. Sharon Fogleman (who joined the United Methodist team last March).
We are focusing the ongoing training for the TBAs on life saving skills. In August volunteer Elizabeth Heft and her sister raised funds for training materials and the first equipment for the TBAs: fetascopes to listen to the baby's heart beat, (which is the same rate as their favorite praise song!!) and bulb syringes to suction the mucous out of the baby's mouth. They practiced their birth skills and how to stimulate the baby's breathing. The very next week we received the first of several reports: the baby was born and only began breathing after the TBA used the bulb syringe!! The TBAs are turning in birth reports to us, and receiving UMCOR's clean birth kits (helping to prevent deadly newborn tetanus). The TBAs gaining trust in their communities and turned to more often, as they have more training and new skills. We have received a praises from family members, and thanks from TBAs. One woman delivered the baby of a health department official, using her equipment and supplies. Now he is much more understanding of our work and supportive of training TBAs!!
NEW BIRTH MANUAL
All of the UMC churches are now using Diantha's newly printed training manual, “Learning Together About Safe and Healthy Birth” to hold their own classes several times a month in their communities. The manual is written in their local language and addresses key issues in an effort to save more lives. Some harmful cultural practices are addressed (such as putting dung on the baby's cord, which can cause the baby to die from tetanus). Child spacing is discussed so women don't suffer from the problems of having too many babies close together. Fathers also need to understand their role to help provide food, and allow her to avoid heavy labor and not prevent her from seeking health care. The classes which are held in the churches are the best way to bring the issues to everyone's attention to learn and discuss. This is the way cultural practices can be changed! Those mothers who have been to the clinic for prenatal care are given infant clothes (UMCOR layette kits).The response has been wonderful. We immediately began receiving reports of weekly classes with 20 pregnant women attending plus additional community members.
Next steps: Our next training will focus on saving the mothers, by controlling bleeding after the birth. We will be working to strengthen the connection to the rural government health clinics and to build an organization led by the TBAs that can be ongoing beyond the help of the missionaries. We have about 65 TBAs who have been coming regularly to our trainings, and new ones wanting to join at each training!! The Episcopal Church of S Sudan has raised some donations so we can also train some TBAs among their churches!
PROGRESS IN OTHER HEALTH PROGRAMS:
Drs. Lynn and Sharon Fogleman are taking major responsibility in heading up a 6 month HIV/AIDS awareness project in our churches (with South Sudanese managers and trainers, from Holston Conference HIV/AIDS grant), educating about malaria and distributing mosquito nets, starting a Community Health Evangelism project in one church (3-5 year program), and helping the Yei hospital with a new center for people with severe malnutrition. We have a new South Sudan District Health Board organized through UMCOR as an avenue with local ownership to be able to use Imagine No Malaria funds not only to fight malaria, but also other killer diseases.
The health projects in the UMC churches need ongoing financial support through the Sudan HEAL Advance Special.
STEVE'S WORK: CONSERVATION FARMING
Steve and Libby Dearing, with the help of Alex Lupayi and 2 pastors, monitored the 256 farmers in 18 villages we had trained in Farming God's Way (conservation farming.) We were pleased that about 110 of them (43%) practiced the methods throughout the long rainy season, a larger percentage than most trainings done here. After evaluating the short rainy season too, we have targeted several village UMC churches where the people have successfully applied the principles we have already taught them, in order to move away from continued dependence on us. In these village churches we want to do refresher trainings; one is ready for a new pilot project in nutrition garden; and one or two might be ready by August to pilot a project in using a simple chisel plow (just makes a furrow) to try mechanizing larger plots but still keeping to the principles of conservation farming (not turning over soil, keeping the soil covered with mulch, etc.) Steve and Libby hope that 2 or 3 village plots might be good enough examples that there can be Field Days in July to bring farmers from other villages to see the successful results of faithfully following the methods. We have been splitting the cost of these efforts using funds from the South Sudan REAP Advance (Renewing Environment and Agriculture for People) and Seeds for Sprouts.
WOMEN'S LITERACY AND SMALL BUSINESS TRAINING:
When Steve and (his South Sudanese assistant) Joice Jaka began offering the same training in small business record-keeping and management to women in the UM churches that we offered to 34 pastors and assistant pastors, we discovered over 3/4 of the women could not read, write or use numbers, (as they had been denied education because of the war, poverty and culture which prefers to educate men) . So far we have trained 130 women from 15 churches in numeracy and small business and helped the women form group businesses with a business plan and small loan (for projects such as growing and selling vegetables, or reselling dried beans). Several of these group businesses are already paying back their loan, and as they successfully accomplish their business plan as a group and pay off their loan they will be eligible for a larger loan and bigger business project. We hope they continue to grow in their capacity for business and for functioning as a group, to take on larger and larger projects. Under Joice's supervision, Monica Ajonye is currently training 30 more women from 4 churches on the Congo Road, and plan to reach the final 3 churches in Lainya County by July. Six pastors have come back for second loans after successfully paying off their first loan.
NEW PROJECT: VILLAGE SAVINGS AND LOAN ASSOCIATION
Steve and Joice have also started training the first UMC Village Savings and Loan Association at Ligitolo UMC (though it includes many of their village neighbors.) We are using a great model developed by World Vision that raises the loan capital from the people themselves, who also elect their own officers and make all the decisions about the savings and loan association. We are able to do this thanks to funding from the Sudan COME (Congregations Organized for Microfinance Empowerment) Advance. Now all three elements of reducing poverty have been started in our UM mission work: increasing income, improving the management of income, and saving income/creating wealth. Having conservation farming underway as the primary method for people to increase income (it multiplies maize yields by 3-4 times), and training in record-keeping as a method for people to manage this income better, now the village savings project will provide the ability to save some of this income for school and medical costs and larger business projects.
BIG CHANGE IN STEVE'S STATUS:
You may have noticed that in all the work Steve does, he has colleagues doing a great deal of the work. From the beginning he has had the goal of gradually turning his work over to others in a way that the work can be sustained without him. With God's help, the work has progressed to the point that this is the year it can be turned over, though with Steve close enough to be consulted when needed . The work will be carried on by others, and still receive funding from the COME and REAP Advance Specials. Meanwhile, he feels the next step in responding to God's call to mission is to establish a way of helping farmers increase success, and to do this as a project not dependent in the long run on donor or grant funds but with long-term financial sustainability. In other words, establishing a business with a social cause: reducing the risks of farming so that farmers can grow their income. Steve is starting a business in agricultural risk assessment and management; having to survive in the marketplace means it will have to be efficient and effective. There is already some demand for this business in South Sudan and Uganda. It also means Steve needs to end his official status as an Independent Volunteer in Mission (IVIM) with the UMC so there is no conflict of interest in running a business, though he plans to continue to being available on a volunteer basis to UMCOR and to respond as requested to those involved in the transition of his work with the South Sudan District UMC. To learn more, see www.africanagricultureriskmanagementservices.kbo.co.ke or email Steve.
WHAT THIS CHANGE MEANS FOR DIANTHA:
We have discovered that this change will be happening February 28. IVIM will close our joint account for donations, and begin a new account for Diantha alone. Though Steve's part of our living expenses will no longer be covered through the IVIM system, we are hoping that many churches and individuals will continue supporting Diantha through IVIM so that her living expenses can be covered as she continues to carry out her mission work as she has been. Beginning March 1 donations to IVIM must carry Diantha's name alone, of course in addition to the IVIM Advance number #982465, otherwise IVIM will have to contact the donors and request them to redesignate their donation. If donors do not want to support Diantha alone, we would encourage you to consider donating money to the Advance Special projects: Sudan REAP #3021296 for agriculture, Sudan COME #3021289 for microfinance and savings programs, Sudan HEAL #3021298 for health programs.
STAY IN TOUCH, PLEASE!
Thank you so much for your faithful prayers and support. Your prayers are part of what is helping us to keep moving forward and are especially needed for this period of transition. We also appreciate getting messages by email or Facebook from our supporters!! Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org and Diantha at email@example.com or either one on Facebook.
In Christ, Steve and Diantha Hodges