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Aleayidun Aminun (Returnees Are Safe): Empowering War-torn Communities to Reintegrate Returning Families

We will partner with communities to build bridges between neighbors to enable reestablishment of community ties and foster social cohesion.

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Sudan’s civil war wreaked havoc on the South Kordofan region. Thousands fled north deeper into Sudan and even more fled south. By 2016, nearly 250,000 people had crossed the border into South Sudan where most lived for years. Periods of peace increased over time, and the April overthrow of the al-Bashir government brings hope for the future. As the pro-democracy coalition and military council finalize a power-sharing agreement, more Sudanese are returning home. Tensions and conflicts between people who are once again neighbors are growing over limited resources, power imbalances, and religious/political differences. There is a need to mitigate potential conflict and reestablish community cohesion by identifying community needs and building bridges between neighbors. MFH will collaborate with communities and accompany them on a reconciliation journey based on justice, truth, mercy and peace. We will support returnees and those who stayed to begin to heal and redirect energies toward productive engagement aimed at cultivating understanding, serving psycho-social needs for trauma, and re-integration and holistic community recovery. Our pilot will expand community connectedness in the context of a country that has suffered decades of war and division. In 5 villages in South Kordofan, we will partner with communities to develop the following interventions: 1) Establish peace committees to identify the needs of returnees and those who stayed, allocate resources based on those needs, and mediate conflicts between neighbors; 2) Develop mechanisms to memorialize the crisis, including creating Community Days and recognizing the community’s stories and tributes; 3) Advocate for returnee rights with the local government and leadership; and 4.) Develop activities to build economic fortitude in 2 communities. Our project will reignite community synergies, enable neighbors to champion neighbors, and empower people to heal and move forward on their human journey.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Our idea targets 5 communities in South Kordofan. Sudan’s civil war decimated these areas – over 60% of people fled their homes. Many residents – mostly mothers and children – are now returning, but there is very little support to help them resettle. Reintegration is challenged by divided loyalties, emotional trauma, religious/political differences and reactions to the war (fleeing or staying). The added burdens of extreme poverty, unemployment and lack of services increase tensions.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Our idea builds the critical bridge of social cohesion and communal engagement and solidarity between people returning home to South Kordofan and their neighbors who never left. We seek to harness each community’s ability to create resolution, resolve conflict, and nurture reintegration with tangible solutions deeply rooted in local culture and knowledge that will reestablish community ties, cultivate resilience, and foster equity allowing people to live with dignity and purpose.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

People across the world – those on the move and those in place – share the human need to connect with others and to be part of an integrated, supportive community. In South Kordofan, the ties that bind people together have been frayed, even shredded, by conflict and displacement. Families have fled and neighbors haven’t seen each other for years. As people begin to return home amid a still uncertain future, now is the time to mend those ties and recover that lost solidarity. MFH’s pilot project will provide mechanisms for people to reengage with each other and regain each other’s trust so that they can work together to pursue a way forward that gives every community member the opportunity to create a life of meaning. While material needs are important, the ability of community members to live in peace alongside one another, to overcome challenges and resolve differences together, and to move toward a hopeful future, is paramount.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

This idea will address issues that are at the very core of what it means to be a community. Our project will equip people with mechanisms that empower them to come to terms with their deeply-rooted grievances, tensions, and shared history of war. We propose to inspire meaningful engagement that impacts the problems associated with reintegration – our communities of focus will achieve a greater solidarity as neighbors help each other and participate in a fair and non-judgmental healing process. MFH will monitor the 5 communities throughout the 3 years of implementation. In addition to collecting progress on outputs and activities, we will endeavor to reflect on and capture the human toll, toil, and progress made in a real and personal fashion. Each community will tell its own story and ruminate, discuss and share changes that have occurred over time. These stories, processes, and changes will be documented and presented in various formats based on the communities’ needs and desires.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Our inspiration comes from our deep connection and the awe we hold for the South Kordofan people who have persevered through a war that has taken away lives, security, and human rights and uprooted social and economic environments. Discussions with partners, staff, and community members led us to champion a model that aims to address the needs of both returnees and those persons who remained, and work with our partners to promote community cohesion, a peaceful and just coexistence, and dignity and understanding through proactive participation. Building bridges and fostering solidarity through a balanced reconciliation process is just as crucial to community vitality as basic needs. As our IDEO expert rightly pointed out, reconciliation is a journey of many steps. This is the beginning. We must proceed carefully, but the current peace process gives us a window of opportunity to guide communities to overcome challenges and create a unified future.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

We will partner with 5 South Kordofan villages for this project: Toroje, Masakin, Chatt Safia (all in Buram County), Karkarai (Umm Dorein County) and Kanga (Western Kadugli County). Before 2011, these villages had an estimated total population of 30,388, but thousands of families fled during the fighting. Though more and more people are returning, the estimated population today is almost 1/3 of what it was at 11,327 before the war reignited in 2011. It is envisioned that this extended period of peace will result in an exponential return of families. There are almost no roads in the Nuba Mountains; villages are connected by foot paths. The vast majority of people in these communities are dependent on rain-fed agriculture and/or a few animals to survive. The conflict decimated homes, markets, and infrastructure. Sadly, the international community has provided minimal support due to the Sudanese government’s 8-year blockade on a population deemed “an enemy of the nation.”

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

The South Kordofan people have survived decades of conflict. They are deeply resilient, resourceful, and hopeful to find long-lasting peace. We will leverage that mindset to benefit the community’s reconciliation journey. Each of 5 target villages will select 12 community members (with guiding criteria such as gender, number of returnees, varied local leaders, etc.) to serve on a peace committee. The chief of each village will serve on a management team (discussed later), enabling the project to benefit from his knowledge and authority without risking undue influence on the members of the committee. The communities have the advantage of abiding, strong relationships with the ruling government and religious structures, networks upon which we can build. Finally, people here have a rich history of solving societal problems at the grassroots level. The cultural basis for this type of work endures and it will be a great asset to successful implementation.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

MFH currently partners with the Mother of Mercy Hospital (MMH) and the Diocese of El Obeid to reopen and operate community clinics closed due to the war and to implement a community outreach system. We are supported by the Secretariat of Health (SOH), the locally-recognized authority responsible for health services. For this project, we will continue to work closely with the Diocese, the SOH, and other local government structures. Additionally, we will partner with the Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation, and Development Organization (NRRDO), a local NGO focusing on reconstruction and advocacy, who will assist with implementation and contribute to sustaining the project over time. Most importantly, we will partner with the people of South Kordofan. MFH will collaborate with local leaders, returnees, and those who stayed during the war. Our work will revolve around the collective lived experience of these partners whose engagement will be fundamental to project success.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Returning home

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Group or Organization Name

Medicines for Humanity

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

MFH’s mission is to save the lives of vulnerable children and their mothers. We work in challenging environments with dynamic in-country partners to strengthen health systems across the globe. We foster a deep trust and connection with our partners that inspires the design and delivery of pragmatic, effective local solutions. MFH is one of very few international NGOs working in war-torn, isolated South Kordofan. The recently overthrown Sudanese government has imposed a humanitarian blockade on its own people there for 8 years, and MFH is one of a handful of NGOs working behind the lines of this embargo. MFH not only has significant experience in the region and working in conflict zones, but more importantly, we are proud to have the respect and trust of these communities and our partners. The foundation and success of our work in South Kordofan over the last few years provides our greatest asset upon which to build.

Website URL:

medicinesforhumanity.org

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Rockland, MA

In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

Community ownership is key, but growing partnerships in remote areas like South Kordofan is challenging. Do you have any advice for us? The “rebel” side of the conflict governs the region; the Khartoum government has no say. Working toward unity at the grassroots level when opposing forces are NOT unified is difficult. What should we be conscientious of and how do we advocate for returnee rights without any government buy-in? Given the situation and constant changes in the political context, is it realistic to think we can implement all 5 activities outlined or should we focus on 2-3 areas?

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

The Improved Phase resources were valuable to our learning and contributed significantly to the further evolution of our idea. We implemented a prototyping exercise and received constructive input from returnees, individuals who remained, chiefs and other leaders that evolved our initiative into a more tailored, effective model for change in this region. For example, the feedback resulted in the modification of peace committee roles and responsibilities, the strengthening of selection criteria, and it elucidated more ideas of how the community can engage and support returnees.

The expert feedback received from Danielle Vella was critical to strengthening and growing our idea. She provided insightful, evidence-based input that redirected some of our thought process and assumptions. With her guidance, we distinguished reconciliation as an ongoing journey - particularly given the fluidity of this conflict - that needs components of peace, justice, mercy, and truth to be holistically impactful. It is imperative that we don’t seek social cohesion at the expense of a sustainable healing. We revised planned community assessments in order to ensure outputs lead to a deeper understanding of the individual community context. Our approach now includes a greater focus on ensuring comprehensive knowledge from multiple perspectives in order to avoid increasing division. Danielle and our mentor, Ramatu Issaka, helped us to consider an effective use of highly influential leaders. We restructured the engagement of leaders like chiefs so they do not unduly influence the community voice. Additionally, we were encouraged to consider our advocacy audience in depth, resulting in a stronger emphasis on advocating with the local government for planning and resources for these communities. Finally, we followed Danielle’s advice to reduce the number of interventions as a means to achieve a greater impact with a set of effective priorities.

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

The devastating consequences of the long Sudanese war, particularly in the Nuba Mountains, receive little global attention and funding is scarce. As Eric Reeves, a recent Harvard University Senior Fellow and Sudan expert, said, ‘The greatest humanitarian conflict is playing out in Nuba, second only to Yemen and the world has turned a blind eye.’ To effectively implement a project in this remote, war-torn region will require a $200,000 investment. The Bridgebuilder opportunity allows a holistic approach of opening dialogue, fostering community cohesion, honoring history, instigating trauma support, developing mechanisms for conflict resolution, and rebuilding local economic partnerships to bridge a very real divide. Funds would enable MFH to work in a way that is culturally appropriate, community conscientious and respectfully aware of the lived experience of returnees and those who stayed behind so they might begin a journey of reintegration. 

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

Funds would support the establishment of this initiative in 5 communities, beginning with a comprehensive community assessment, significant to understanding village context and effective operationalization. Our model will promote ongoing feedback from communities to enable us to further strengthen the interventions in real-time. This effort will further support replication and long-term sustainability. The critical interventions include: 1) Establish peace committees to identify the needs of returnees and those who stayed, allocate resources based on those needs, and mediate conflicts between neighbors; 2) Develop mechanisms to memorialize the crisis and pay tribute, which could include Community Days, sharing stories and creating a shared history; 3) Advocate for returnee rights, community cohesion and joint use of resources with the local government and local leadership; and 4) Support economic partnerships to grow opportunity for both returnees and other community members.

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

Community assessments (Year 1): Reconciliation needs of returnees & those who stayed; perceptions about returnees, challenges/biases; understand existing structures, influencers & government role; community perceived steps to reintegration
Structures and materials (Year 1): Hire & train project manager; establish management team; guidelines/selection criteria for peace committees; select/train committee members & operationalize; contract consultant for reintegration activities; develop radio program, economic partnership activity
Advocacy (Year 1,2): Relationship building & planning with leaders about program, reintegration & resources; advocacy engagement with local government, community & returnee leads
Activity Implementation (Year 2,3): Peace committees operating; memorials/community days/family partnering/share history; ESAs operational

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

Reconciliation is a journey and healing will continue well beyond the life of this project. We will institutionalize mechanisms to integrate dialogue, collaboration, and understanding between returnees and those who stayed, starting a path to empowerment and resolution, even in a context that is still unfolding.


Our project will establish a foundation for integration. Initiating a journey with a human centered design approach and applying interventions based on a comprehensive contextual understanding will be the lynchpins to successful impact. We will measure achievement through an evolving analysis of implemented activities, ready to adapt as needed, and gauging community engagement and response.


Final question: How do we continue to evolve our model amid political uncertainty and in a community with a dearth of opportunity, resources and government support?

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

This project will be carried out by a management team with representatives from MFH, NRRDO, the Diocese, local government, village chiefs and/or members of village councils. Chiefs are great influencers with deep knowledge/understanding of the area.  A strategic decision was made to engage them at a high level to avoid undue influence or bias at the community level. They will work behind the scenes, where they will still have an important role to play without the danger of undue influence. MFH will provide project oversight, guidance and technical support. We will work closely with all partners and the management team for streamlined implementation. Our partners on the ground will drive activities and be the eyes and ears in the community. MFH will hire a local project manager to work closely with the consultant. This manager will be an indispensable team member and must be a respected, motivated individual from the area.

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

We received valuable prototyping, expert, and mentor feedback that reinforced key ideas and motivated us to revisit our assumptions and take steps to strengthen our initiative. We realized we needed to adjust our thinking to a project structured on a journey and taking the journey’s first steps rather than achieving final outcomes so we cut the number of interventions and focused on an adaptive, evolving process. We also recognized our idea was too structured around a community-driven approach and, in this fluid context with the realities of local life, we had to focus more on accompanying the community on their journey to reconciliation and providing more leadership. As a result, we increased our guiding role, but also identified the idea of management teams made up of all partners. The feedback also pointed to the importance of ensuring essential fairness and mitigating areas that might inadvertently add more conflict than good.  

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Thanks so much, Danielle. We really appreciate your support. Maybe you could email them to me at jmartin@medicinesforhumanity.org?

Thanks again!
Jen

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