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Area residents take life changing mission trip

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On a mission: Pam Moore (second from left), South Sudan’s Minister of Health Dr. Riek Gai Kok, Heather Olsen and Darrin Peterson.

by Susie Boyce Angerbauer, Contributing Writer

“Please thank your families for letting you come here. And thank them for recognizing that we’re human beings.”

This heartfelt parting statement, made by South Sudan’s Minister of Health Dr. Riek Gai Kok, was given to three southern Denton County residents as they departed South Sudan at the end of their humanitarian visit in February.

After a brutal 40-year war, the African country South Sudan, that gained its independence in 2011, is the world’s newest nation. In February of this year, famine was officially declared in two of South Sudan’s states. Famine has not been declared anywhere else in the world for the past six years.

Among other shocking statistics, for a region to be in a state of famine, one in every 5,000 inhabitants die every day. Because one-million inhabitants are currently on the brink of starvation, the official famine is expected to spread throughout many more South Sudanese states.

Two years ago, Fox News White House Correspondent Ellen Ratner contacted Founder and CEO of LifeSeasons Darrin Peterson (a Copper Canyon resident) to ask him to be Vice President of the non-profit she established to provide essential support for the South Sudanese. Her organization is called GEMS, which stands for Goats, Education, Medicine and Sustainability.

Peterson’s answer was an unequivocal: “yes!”

His visits to South Sudan have been transformative.

“South Sudanese mothers are faced with decisions none of us can even conceptualize,“ he explains, “Without the basic necessities of food, water and medical assistance, many mothers must decide which of their children to let live. When considering these and other dire situations I witness, I am firmly committed to use any means at my disposal for the welfare of this developing country and its remarkable, resilient citizens.”

Peterson has come to understand that the South Sudanese are good people who have fought unremittingly for freedom, but are also working exhaustively for survival.

President George W. Bush was highly instrumental in helping South Sudan win its independence and is, therefore, highly regarded among the South Sudanese. One educator in South Sudan explained that Bush was the “midwife” during the birth of their country.

As the country grows from infancy, its citizens do not need or wish for just a handout, but rather a hand up as they rebuild their country’s infrastructure after 40 years of war and genocide.

This February, Peterson and Ratner returned to South Sudan, this time joined by Chapter President Pam Moore (Highland Village) and Public Relations Board Member Heather Olsen (Double Oak) of the Highland Village Chapter of Days for Girls International– an organization created to empower girls and women worldwide with more dignity, health and safety through quality sustainable menstrual management.

During their visit, group members: administered medical and psychiatric aid to those suffering from PTSD, delivered goats purchased through donations to GEMS (one female goat can sustain a family for up to a year), distributed Days for Girls feminine hygiene kits (which allow South Sudanese females to attend school and work without missing a single day), and donated wheelchairs (also purchased through donations to GEMS) to polio victims.

Moore was deeply affected while visiting the women suffering from PTSD.

Darrin Peterson listens as a South Sudanese girl quietly whispers a prayer in his ear.

“These women have been traumatized by the war,” she said with deep emotion, “It’s hard to imagine all they have seen. The murders, rapes, starvation and brutality they have experienced for decades is incomprehensible. A new chamber has opened up in my heart for these people and I want to do whatever I can to help. In addition to many more kits, my hope is that we can help them set up micro-enterprises.”

Olson’s personal experience with a child proved to be life-changing.

“I met an infant in Aweil state who was visibly sick,” she said. “Her eyes were yellow and she had edema, which are often signs of malaria. I hated being unable to do anything for her there. Here, I could take her to Rapid Med, get medicine and be on our way.  Her family has no such luxury.  There was no clinic within 30-miles of her village and no transportation to get to a distant one. Most likely, there was no money to pay for medicine. So her face will be with me always and I pray for her survival against all odds.

“My trip to South Sudan has compelled me to act. I left feeling the need to bear witness of their sufferings and work to alleviate it as much as possible. I want to help people understand, because we have nothing to compare it to here. The South Sudanese are dying for lack of basic necessities.  I hold the belief that every person is a child of God who needs our help.”

South Sudan is on the other side of the world, but North Texans can still help.

For example, a local Flower Mound family contacted GEMS, asking how they could assist. With the partnership from a corporate charitable fund matching program, the family purchased one wheelchair for each polio victim in the state of Awei.

Because of one Flower Mound family, 14 South Sudanese polio survivors no longer have to drag themselves along the ground, wearing flip flops on their hands, to move from one place to another. The wheelchairs gave these survivors two precious gifts: mobility and dignity.

At the end of their visit, Peterson’s encounter with a young child has settled itself deep into his heart.

“While on my knees, hugging the children goodbye, a sweet little girl folded her hands and whispered in my ear,” he said. “She spoke Dinka and I spoke English, but our souls understood each other. Her simple prayer was, ‘God, please help these people help us.’  I can never forget my starving brothers and sisters in South Sudan.”

How To Help

Millions of South Sudanese citizens are in desperate need, and many North Texans are in a position to help in ways both large and small.

To learn more about ways to contribute time, money or resources, visit the GEMS website: www.goatsfortheoldgoat.com, which offers several ways to donate, including purchasing goats, wheelchairs, and jewelry made by women suffering from PTSD.

For details about how to help GEMS with their current sustainability projects, email: gems.southsudan@gmail.com or visit www.daysforgirls.org (international chapter); and, highlandvillage@daysforgirls.org (local chapter’s email)—to learn how and where to help assemble, sew or donate items for feminine hygiene kits.

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