York profs seek to help Sudanese get back on their feet

A group of York University professors has collaborated on a plan to help civilians in war-torn Sudan rebuild their lives, and to offer support for the ongoing peace process.

Professor David Wheeler, director of York’s Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability; Professor Susan McGrath, director of York’s Centre for Refugee Studies; and Professor David Dewitt, AVP reseach and director of the York Centre for International & Security Studies, have worked with a team of 10 universities in the Sudan, Egypt and the US to create a proposal to promote sustainable development and grassroots industry in Darfur and Southern Sudan. The proposal was to be presented at the 24th Annual Sudan Studies Conference, which began yesterday at York University and continues through tomorrow.

dewitt.wheeler.mcgrathRight: From left, David Dewitt, David Wheeler and Susan McGrath

“We know that the Sudanese people are very resourceful,” says Wheeler. “The key is to help them achieve sustainable livelihoods. It’s also a very important part of the peace-building process. It’s vital that returning soldiers have the opportunity to find meaningful work and gain income.”

The first phase of the plan, “Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods and Grassroots Enterprise Development in Darfur and Southern Sudan,” proposes extensive field research, focusing on economically and physically vulnerable women in camps, and ex-combatants in Darfur and the South of Sudan. Project coordinators intend to conduct hundreds of interviews in refugee camps, in order to hear first hand from Southern Sudanese what it would take for them to succeed as entrepreneurs, and what barriers they might face.

“Going out there and talking to people is especially important in order to understand what will work. At the end of the first phase, we’re going to have specific plans for entrepreneurial initiatives that will develop sustainable enterprises and help promote political stability,” McGrath said.

mother.childRight: Sudanese refugees face an uncertain future

Coordinators are also planning a forum co-convened with the World Bank and the International Labour Organization (ILO), involving more than 60 participants, including a large number of those based in Darfur and Southern Sudan. The World Bank and the ILO were consulted in the development of the proposal, along with a range of international and national NGOs and Sudanese government institutions. York Professors Peter Penz and Pablo Idahosa were also involved in drafting the proposal.

The conference, hosted by York’s Centre for Refugee Studies, is being attended by a number of “lost boys”, a generation of children orphaned in the civil war in the late 1980s, who spent years in refugee camps before many were resettled in the US. Titled “Civil Wars in Sudan: Casualties, Displacements and Injustices”, the conference aims to promote international awareness of Sudan’s present civil war crisis and the need for global action.

Scholars from the Sudan, South Africa, Europe, Canada and the US will present papers on a wide range of issues including the history of the current conflicts, their regional, national and international impacts, and strategies for peace and reconstruction. Professor Ali B. Ali-Dinar, president of the Sudan Studies Association, will report on the situation in Darfur, Southern Sudan and Khartoum and the impact of the sudden death of Sudanese Vice-President John Garang on the peace process.

The Sudan Studies Association is an independent professional society founded in the US in 1981 and committed to promoting Sudanese studies and scholarship. Membership is open to scholars, teachers, students and others with interest in the Sudan. Anyone interested is welcome to attend the conference.

For more information visit the Civil Wars in Sudan: Casualties, Displacements and Injustices Web site.