Friday, May 25, 2012

Ministry Crashers

When making travel plans for Juba, most people who really knew the city told us to not bother making any at all. one of my professors, Stephen Smith, told me to just show up in the city and try to find people to meet with. I doubted it would be that easy, but I was definitely wrong. The past couple of days have definitely proven to me that South Sudan probably has one of the most accessible governments in the world. I'll explain:


Sanjay and I set out to explore the ministries and meet with whoever we could. All of the ministries are in the same area, about a mile from our hotel. We started out at the Ministry of Health, where we walked straight up to the front desk and asked to see the undersecretary (in the South Sudanese government, the chain of command is minister, deputy minister, and then undersecretary). We heard the minister and deputy minister were at a convention in Geneva, so we couldn't be too picky. The guard looked at us, asked us to sign in, and asked to see our passports. He then took them upstairs, came back about 30 seconds later, and told us that we could see the undersecretary in a couple of hours. Keep in mind that we're two random college students, and we didn't even tell him what we wanted to talk to him about.

We decided to walk over to a trailer next to the ministry where they had additional offices, and we walked into the office that said "Malaria Control and Prevention." Sanjay asked the woman in the office if she'd talk with us for 10 minutes (she said yes), and we chatted for a while about challenges the government faced in disease control and what students in the US could do to help. By that time Sanjay and I had gained a bit of confidence, and I felt like I was getting the hang of this whole ministry-crashers thing. 

After the Ministry of Health, we walked over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. It's South Sudan's equivalent to the State Department, so I was really excited to get to speak with people there. At the front desk, when we asked to see the undersecretary, the man asked to keep a copy of our identification while we were walking through the building. Sanjay and I simultaneously handed him our DukeCards (that's it), and he handed us lanyards that said "Guests of the Undersecretary" on them. We walked straight to the undersecretary's office, and asked to see him, and they told us (again) to come back in a couple of hours. 

Determined to meet someone at the ministry, we walked downstairs and into the Department of Humanitarian Affairs. We met the head of the department, named Sitona Sitona, and she talked with us for about half an hour about how her department coordinated and communicated between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs. Apparently she really liked us, because she gave us the business cards for the Deputy Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, the Minister of Health, and a senior human rights officer for UNMISS. While in her office, the South Sudanese Ambassador to Egypt walked in, and we got to talk with him for a bit about Egyptian elections and South Sudan's role as what he called a "gateway between Africa and the Arab World." He also formerly served as the Sudanese Ambassador to the Congo! 

I got a call from Sitona not long after we'd left her office saying that she had called the Deputy Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Hon. Sabina Dario Lokolong, and that she'd like to meet with us as soon as possible. We walked right over to the ministry (which was a couple of blocks away), and the deputy minister's secretary was already waiting for us. We talked to the deputy minister for almost an hour--she was incredibly friendly and really brilliant. She definitely had the nicest office I'd seen in Juba thus far. Sanjay and I ate a really late lunch at an Indian restaurant (where he called the Minister of Health and they told us to come in Monday) and then we headed back to the hotel to relax. 

Photo online of Deputy Minister Lokolong in her office


On Thursday we got up and went to breakfast to say goodbye to Aduei and Sheldon--Aduei was headed to a conference in the UK and Sheldon was going to the Rift Valley Institute course on Sudan and South Sudan in Athi River, Kenya. We met Aduei's cousin Deng and stopped by her office to check it out. For lunch, we met with Amanda Hsiao of the Enough Project at a restaurant called Home and Away. I worked with Amanda last summer a bit at Enough and it was great getting to talk to her about what they're doing on the ground. Before Amanda got to the restaurant, a small deer (?) approached our table. I've been trying to figure out what it was for hours now, and my closest guesses are a Dik-Dik or a Duiker (although neither look exactly right). Fifty bucks to whoever can figure it out. Cutest animal ever.

It's so small!

Cute mystery animal liked my backpack

Sanjay and I walked over to the World Health Organization, where we had emailed them and set up a meeting with Dr. Moses, the country health systems director. Dr. Moses was incredibly brilliant, and he stressed just how related all of South Sudan's problems are to health. Without peace, security, and the proper infrastructure, there is no way that an effective health system can be put in place.

Thursday made me rethink all of the walking Sanjay and I had been doing. The heat was pretty unbearable, and even though it's probably the same in Phoenix, I'm not used to walking outside for miles when it's that hot out. Whew. 

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