Page 37 - Foreign Service Journal - March 2013

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MARCH 2013
returnees to build homes, while others coordinated homestay
programs until they could provide them with transport to rural
areas. Absorptive capacity was a signifcant concern due to
limited resources.
Despite these constraints, numerous transit sites that had
been intended to be small and temporary turned into villages
and towns with signifcant economic activity and semi-perma-
nent infrastructure, thanks to the industrious returnees. Sadly,
though, many of the considerable technical skills they brought
with them from their vocations in the north were of little use in
their new homes.
Language skills were another problem. One young Arabic-
speaking woman, who had been a housekeeper for an elite
family in the north, admitted that she didn’t know how she
would survive in the south. But with her small child resting on
her hip, she said she was determined to learn a new language,
take up a new vocation and start over.
Most of the returnees had spent their whole lives as dis-
placed persons. A few shared stories of residing for years in
refugee camps in bordering countries, and many reported
receiving U.S. and international support at some stage. No one
could predict the outcome of the referendum, of course, but
there was an overwhelming sense that with 50 years of war
behind them, they would now be able to ofer their children a
better future.
One woman, after surveying a plot of barren land she had
received near the village of her ancestors, told me, “I don’t
know how we will live here. My children don’t know this place,
and they don’t even speak the local language. But this is their
home, so we will fnd a way.”
In the presence of such courage, it was sobering to refect
that the road ahead for the returnees would be even steeper
than the road behind them. Tose of us who are aid practition-
ers in such settings may become frustrated by exceptionally
poor conditions and insufcient resources that make lasting
progress seem far out of reach. To counter these realities, I
remind myself that I have witnessed the great impact that U.S.
programs continue to have on the lives of the displaced.
I also carry with me memories of the Southern Sudanese
returnees who, despite signifcant hardship, maintained that
one crucial ingredient for positive and permanent change:
tremendous, unrelenting hope.
Laureen Reagan, a Foreign Service ofcer, is currently assigned
to USAID/Zimbabwe’s Humanitarian Assistance Ofce in