Friday, May 19, 2006

International Justice Mission

Last night, my wife and I had the priviledge of attending an IJM Benefit Dinner in Orlando. Not only was it a fun gala event with good food and music, but it was also a rare chance to hear IJM's President Gary Haugen speak live about his passion for rescuing children and their families from slavery. We also got to hear from Ted Haddock, Communications Manager for IJM, and see some of his pictures.

Thoreau said, "Thousands whack at the leaves of evil, but only one attacks the root." IJM is the one attacking the root.

IJM is doing a great work in the world and is really making a difference. Every day they are restoring dignity, life and love to people around the world. They are an incredible organization and I strongly encourage you to learn more about their successes and to donate to them financially. You can click on the link in the right sidebar to go to their website.

Some people are the hands and feet of justice, others are the wallet...which one are you?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

When is a chicken worth its weight in gold?

When is a chicken worth its weight in gold? To answer this question, let me tell you a story about a disease and a diseased. It is a story about the dignity that every human deserves.

Leprosy - despite all the advances in medicine in the modern world – is one of the most debilitating diseases that still run wild in Eastern Chad.

Leprosy is a disease that attacks not only the body, but also the heart and soul of a person. As a leper’s hands and feet lose the ability to feel and are worn down to bloody nubs, the leper becomes an outcast. Shunned by family and friends, they are forced to live in the outskirts of town and are denied basic human interaction. If they take their family with them, they too are shut out of life with others. They live by begging and survive on the barest of threads.

Growing up the son of a doctor whose life was dedicated to serving the poor people of Eastern Chad, we often came in contact with the ‘despicable’ members of society. I remember clearly spending one whole day cleaning up a leper colony (a place where outcasts had joined up to form a new village) and seeing the amazement on their faces that someone valued them.

My father began to befriend and give medical treatment to one leper in particular. He would bandage his wounds and then sit and talk with him – treating him not only with medicine, but also with dignity and respect. Over time, they became good friends and we helped out their family on a regular basis.

One night, in the cool early evening of the desert, the old leper came limping into our front yard. As he approached, clothed in dirty rags, he called out my dad. In between the stumps that use to be his hands, he had clinched a tiny, scrawny chicken. My father went out to greet him and the man looked up at him. With tears in his eyes, the elderly man looked at my dad and thanked him for caring. He told my father how he had never been treated like a human after getting the disease. He recounted the abuse and the discrimination that he faced because of the cards that life dealt him. Through his tears, his eyes shone with dignity and pride. He thanked my father for noticing him and taking care of him. Then, he reached out his arms and offered my dad the tiny bird – it was so small, but it was an entire meal for his family. He apologized for not being able to give my family a nicer gift of thanks, but he was giving all that he could.

That is when a chicken is worth its weight in gold.

Right now, almost 400,000 men, women and children - with the same dignity and right to life and respect as the old man - have been slaughtered in Darfur. Millions are displaced due to the violence taking place there. Please, take a stand now for Darfur and help save an entire race of human beings from being wiped off the face of the earth. Save my friends.

The Chronicle article about me

Reprinted here with the permission of the Citrus County Chronicle.
Local man urges pressure for international action

By Jim Hunter
Citrus resident Scott Sutton has fond memories of growing up along the Chadian border next to the Darfur region of Sudan in Africa. It was a desolate landscape, but the people of the region were what make his memories so fond.

They were generous, caring people who had little but who needed little, he said, and they lived life with an infectious joy.

That’s why he is so shocked when he sees the lifeless faces staring back at him from the TV reports of the refugee camps there now.

He remembers a wonderful people, full of life; people, he said, who have “a remarkable ability to survive in a wasteland.”

They live in a harsh, arid land that sees rain but three months of the year — and not a drop the rest of the year, he said. They live very essentially, though still have a joy for life.

Sutton’s father was a missionary doctor for the nondenominational WEC International mission in Chad and was the only doctor in his whole province. Even back in the early 1990s, because of the centuries-old cultural, religious and tribal strife in the region, his father worked with refugees from neighboring Sudan, Sutton said.

But things slowly got worse. His family had to evacuate once, though the situation was never as bad as it has become now. “They’re dotted all over the landscape now,” he said of the refugee camps.

When he reached his middle teens, the young Sutton went to a boarding school in Germany for high school and subsequently went to the University of North Carolina for his degree in journalism, but he routinely went back to Africa.

As the situation deteriorated, his family had to leave. Sutton was last there in 2002. He still corresponds with friends and is appalled by what he hears.

What he reads and sees on TV has him very dismayed. The longstanding conflict in Sudan that has driven refugees from Darfur into camps in Chad has turned into a dire situation, he said.

The Sudanese government had turned a blind eye to what amounts to genocide by Arab tribal militia forces on indigenous African civilians. The raids on camps and raping and killing by the militias was widespread. That ultimately sparked a rebel uprising.

Since early 2003, about 2 million have been driven from their homes in the conflict, according to the United Nations.

There is a recent glimmer of hope. The largest of three rebel groups fighting the government late last week agreed to a truce, but it’s unclear if all the rebel groups will do so. The peace deal would disband the government-backed Arab “janjaweed” militias.

But even as the possibility of a peace deal unfolds, Sutton said, there is another long running problem about to turn disastrous. The United Nations estimates that about 180,000 people have already died from illness and malnutrition since 2003.

Just last week, the United Nations said it was cutting in half the daily food rations it gives to about 3 million people in the war-torn Darfur region. There are another 3 million displaced persons in neighboring areas of Sudan who also depend on the food to survive.

The World Food Bank said it had gotten only about a third of the funds necessary from the international community to feed the people this year. About 79 percent of that has come from the United States.

Sutton said the three-month wet season is approaching, when it’s almost impossible to truck in supplies.

He has watched the situation get worse and worse, and now he feels he has to speak out in his own community and to urge citizens to speak up to get the United States to force the United Nations and international community to act. He has put up a Web site to draw attention to the situation.

He said he doesn’t expect the United States to send troops, but that all self-respecting citizens of the world have a moral obligation to speak out and demand intervention before Darfur becomes another Rwanda. (See his column in today’s Commentary section).

Sutton is now a communications specialist for Progress Energy in Crystal River, but if his heart could have its way, he said, he would be handing out water and supplies to the refugees in Darfur and playing with the lovely children he remembers.

He is fluent in Chadian Arabic and French and knows the culture. But since it’s not possible for him to be there at the moment, he figures the next best thing is to do what he can to get U.S. citizens to understand what is happening.

To read Sutton’s stories of Africa and see more of his personal commentary, visit his blog at: www.dyinginthedust

Monday, May 15, 2006

This is GREAT news

Although this news is from almost a year ago, it is new to me. I am so thankful that an organization like the International Medical Corps and a charity like the Gates Foundation have recognized the dire need of the Chadian citizens. The world is focused on the refugees - and rightly so - but what many aid workers are beginning to notice as they travel to the camps is that the people along the way are in just as much need as those in the camps. Kudos to the IMC and the Gates foundation for working to better the host population.

Before they were involved, my father was the only doctor doing any medical work in this entire region. He single-handlely built hospitals and clinics, trained nurses, and procurred supplies. Now, where he was alone in his work for a decade, there are hundreds of medical professionals and large amounts of money being spent. It's about time the world took notice.

To read more about the $537,000 Gates Foundation grant to help Chad cope with the Darfur crisis, click here.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Tale of Two Girls

Two Christmases ago I was making a quick pit stop in a grocery store in Charlotte, NC. I just needed to pick up a few items before meeting up with my fiancée and I stopped at a store in an affluent district of town. As my eyes were searching the shelves for my desired item, my ears caught the sounds of a young girl and her mom visiting with a friend. This is how I remember the conversation going:

Friend: “Don’t you look cute today! Are you getting ready for Christmas?”

Mom: “Yes she is, she can’t wait for her presents.”

Friend: “What are you asking for this year? An IPOD?”

Mom: “No, she already has one, she couldn’t wait until Christmas so she bought it herself.”

At this point, my ears are fully attached to this conversation. I am 22 and do not have the funds to afford an IPOD music player. Here was a mom saying that that her 6-year old daughter not only already owned one, but also bought the $200 piece of electronics herself.

The mom continued: “Yeah, she just wasn’t happy without it, so we said she could spend some of her allowance to get one.”

Ok, now I was beginning to get mad. The words that jumped out at me were “wasn’t happy” and “some of her allowance.” $200 is just some of her allowance? Not happy?! I had visions of this little girl dancing around listening to her music in a room filled with once needed, now discarded toys. At that point I felt like turning around and shaking both mother and daughter. Instead, I turned around and left the store.

As I replayed that conversation in my head over and over again, I could not help but think of little Zara. Zara was a girl that I knew growing up in Eastern Chad. Life in a barren dessert wasteland is never easy, but a young girl’s lot in life seems to be extra tough. As the oldest girl of eight children she had never really had a childhood. From the moment she was strong enough to carry a pot, she was put to work helping her mother. She would go fetch water from the local well, she would chop and split firewood, and she would join in the arduous task of grinding grain for the evening meal.

Once her siblings were born, she had the chores of caring for them as well, often carrying them on her fragile back as she went about her other chores. Her father had run off to Libya to try to find a good job, leaving her mother and Zara to try to grow enough crops on their patch of desert to last another year.

Yet despite these odds against her, her lost childhood and her struggle to provide for her family – all before the age of 10 – Zara never lost her smile. Zara sang as she worked, hummed as she cleaned and laughed during the few moments she got to play with other kids.

Being Muslim, Zara’s family did not celebrate Christmas but instead, celebrated the end of the holy month of Ramadan. This once-a-year festival is a time off rejoicing and feasting and gift giving. For her celebration, Zara didn’t receive anything more than a plain, white dress – her first new clothes all year. Her eyes lit up upon receiving this humble gift and she wore it proudly until it was in tatters.

Zara’s reaction and joy is so different than the girl in the Charlotte grocery store. The girl in the store has enormous advantages in life, but she was less joyful and less content than the girl in Chad. She was being taught that the way to happiness is through money and through instant gratification, whereas Zara was learning that happiness could be found in any situation and to be content with little.

If I have the choice to raise my future daughter with all the wealth in the world or in the middle of the desert, I would be inclined to raise her like Zara – finding joy in a land of little.
Unfortunately, millions of young girls like Zara are now being starved, beaten and even raped in Eastern Chad and Darfur. The dangerous lack of security has allowed rogue militias to destroy villages, herds and lives in a brutal genocide campaign. Now Zara, and those like her, live in refugee camps and where smiles and laughs once were, now only exist blank stares and desperate cries for help. Help save Darfur now – help save my friends - help save Zara.

The Water Boys

Sometimes at night I can still imagine the pounding drum beat of a water boy. This rhythmic pounding is the lifeline of an entire community. In the Darfur region of the world there is no running water. Water comes either from the drying central lake or deep wells dug in dry riverbeds. These sources are often far from the showers and washrooms where the water is needed, and that is where the Water Boys come in. A Water Boy is a career that provides the link between the supply and the demand. Please, allow me to describe to you a water boy:

Meet Ibrahim. His hair is tightly braided and his skin is freshly oiled. He rises early in the morning and steps outside his dark hut, squinting at the already bright sun. He shakes some coals and a few weak embers rise. He quickly inserts some dry reeds and a flicker of a flame gives him hope for a hot breakfast. He heats some medidi (a drinkable rice and sugar mixture) and gobbles it down. He knows he needs his strength for the day ahead.

Once his stomach is satisfied, he makes his way through some thorn trees and over some brown grass to the animal pen. He unlatches the goatskin lock and swings open the branch that is doubling as a gate. He enters and approaches his capital investment - a donkey.

The donkey is ornery this morning and backs away from Ibrahim. He shakes his hand and turns his body, as if he is threatening to turn Ibrahim'’s day sour with one swift kick to the midsection. Ibrahim grabs him by his mane and calms him down.

"Agod sakit (Stay still)" he begs the large animal. Finally, with the donkey'’s jitters gone, Ibrahim reaches for a heavy burlap sack and places it on the animal's back. Then follows a coarse pad made of woven straw, a blanket and then a wooden saddle. This saddle is not ordinary for a bar is placed across where a human normally sits. This saddle is not made for joy rides, this is business.

The last touch to add to his steed is the most important piece of equipment - the water sack. This equipment is made out of leather and sits on the saddle. It actually has two large sacks, one sits on either side of the donkey. At the top there is one opening that leads to both sacks and that the bottom corner of each sack is a tied-off opening.

Ibrahim adds the other two essentials tools of the trade -– large buckets and a wooden stick - and he is ready for his commute to work. He makes his way through the quiet streets, through back alleys and under archways. Each house’'s front yard is surrounded by large, mud-brick walls.

He arrives at the well and stands in line. He makes his way closer and closer and pays the Well Master a small fee. He attaches his buckets to the rope and lowers them in to the well. Seconds after they hit the bottom with a splash, he strains and tugs and works the buckets back up to the surface. Once at the top, he empties them into the sacks on the donkey. He repeats this until both sacks are bulging full, seeping water, and the donkey teetering a bit from the load. Then, it's off to make money.

Unless he has specific clients - people who prearrange for his water delivery service -– he has to roam the streets looking for buyers. The way he lets people know that he is walking past their large compound walls is by beating his stick against his buckets. Bang- Bang - Bang. Now the whole block knows a water boy is near.

No luck here so he continues to the next block where a young girl sprints out of her family's gate and calls him over. She points him over to the family barrels where he parks the donkey. Now comes the trickiest part of his job as he must untie the opening to the sacks one at a time and empty the water into his bucket. Then, he must empty his bucket into the barrel. He must do this all while dealing with a donkey who simply doesn't enjoy the task at hand. So Ibrahim gallantly grabs the tie and lets some water through, the donkey jolts and sends water (money) crashing to the dry ground. Ibrahim readjusts and tries again. On his fourth or fifth time, he gets a full bucket. He ties off the sack and dumps it in the barrel. Once the barrel is full, the young girl pays him and he is done.

It's off again to the well, to continue his job as the town'’s plumbing system -– yet another way the people of Darfur have ingeniously beaten the odds.

In Darfur, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Survival is not an option and the people are so creative. They manage to find a solution to every problem. They reuse everything and waste nothing. These very people are now the victims of genocide. Please, help me take a stand for them and end their unjust murders.