Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Quote: Lost Boys of South Sudan

From A People Tall and Smooth: Stories of Escape from Sudan to Israel by Judith Galblum Pex (pages 37, 39, 46-47):

From 1983 to 1987 our life was stressful. Food was no problem, but when the government heard that rebels were in a particular place, they would come and even abduct children. So in 1987 when I was about ten years old, I decided to run away and join the other boys who were fleeing our area.

During the war the policy of the Arab-controlled government was to Islamize the boys especially. They aimed to change our ideology. The government soldiers might seize girls and women and abuse them, but boys were crucial to their plan to create a new Muslim society. They would brainwash the boys, give them guns, and send them back to kill their own people. That's how they operated. And that's why our parents sent us boys away.

Not all of us reached Ethiopia. We were protected by two or three rebel neighbors who were guiding us and fighting for us. But still, lions, leopards, and other wild animals killed many. Boys also died of hunger and thirst. Some were shot. Although the tribal militias were fighting with our guards, the bullets reached us too.

Each child received a tiny ration of water, barely enough for one day. In the desert they weighed the precious water for us.

'Be strong,' our leaders told us. 'When you reach the river you can drink as much as you want.'

Thankfully, in south Sudan a lot of gazelles pass through in herds, and our leaders hunted them. We children collected firewood and skinned and butchered the animals. We put the meat right on the fire. We had only a few pots, so if another group was cooking, we had to wait before we could have some soup. Only if we stayed in one place for a few days did we have time to wait. Otherwise roasting was the main way to cook. There were also wild vegetables to forage in the bush. We just ate what we wanted, depending on where we came from and what kind of wild fruits we had learned about in our area.

There were so many of us children traveling that I can't even estimate the number. In 1987 when we reached a place called Panyido over the border in Ethiopia, there were more than twenty thousand boys. For various reasons, no girls were with us. Because most of us were young, even eight years old, we started getting childhood diseases like chicken pox and measles. I witnessed a lot of my cousins dying in the camp but I didn't catch those sicknesses because I'd already had them at home. Many of us died of hunger and diseases. There was no treatment. Our rebel guards were trying to help us, but what could they do?

'You must come and care for these thousands of children,' the Ethiopian government begged the United Nations.

They came; but still our life was very, very, very hard. We suffered a lot. We were left to fend for ourselves. We had to build our own houses an construct roads too. When we went to the bush to fell trees, some of our friends never returned. We left them out there, killed by lions.

The few adults all lived separately from us. The grownups couldn't even help us except to just lend a hand in burying our friends. We buried most of them ourselves but if adults were around they helped us. They could also assist in unloading relief supplies from trucks, work that was too heavy for us boys.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A People Tall and Smooth by Judith Galblum Pex

book cover

A People Tall and Smooth:
Stories of Escape from Sudan to Israel
by Judith Galblum Pex

ISBN-13: 978-0-98-189293-1
Trade Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: Cladach Publishing
Released: April 15, 2011

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
"At that time gifts will be brought to the Lord Almighty [to Mount Zion] from a people tall and smooth-skinned." -Isaiah 18:7

The popular beach town of Eilat, at the southernmost tip of Israel, is visited daily by international tourists who want to visit the warm waters of the Red Sea. But when hundreds of tall, dark Africans show up to stay, curiosities are piqued. Where did they come from? Why are they in Eilat of all places? When a group of them enter The Shelter hostel run by John & Judy Pex, answers to these questions unfold.

These are the very real stories of how and why five refugees escaped the genocide in South Sudan and Darfur, made their way through Egypt and smuggled into Israel, the only country their Islamic government prohibits them to go. They fled across the border with nothing but the clothes on their backs. No food. No money. No papers. No possessions. Just thankful to be alive.

All of the author's proceeds from the sales of A People Tall and Smooth will go to projects for the Sudanese refugees.

Advance Praise for A People Tall and Smooth:

"Although much has been written about the Lost Boys of Sudan who resettled in large groups in the United States beginning in 2000, very little, if anything, has been written about the countless Sudanese who fled alone to neighboring countries. Judy Pex breaks the silence, unfolding the perilous journeys of Sudanese refugees. For many it was a choice that came at tremendous cost: imprisonment, separation from their children and spouses, hunger, brutal beatings and death. It's a story of resilience, determination and the choice for freedom--at all cost."
--Joan Hecht, award-winning author of The Journey of the Lost Boys

My Review:
A People Tall and Smooth "A People Tall and Smooth" is the combined autobiographies of 4 Christian Sudanese refugees from South Sudan, 1 Muslim Sudanese refugee from Darfur, and the Israeli author (who happens to be a Messianic Jew). The author explained how she ended up in Israel running The Shelter Hostel and how she and her husband first meet the Sudanese refugees.

After helping these refugees for a while, she asked several of the refugees to tell her their story for this book. (They spoke the story into a tape recorder, the author transcribed the material and edited the sometimes disjointed stories so that they were in chronological order, then she confirmed with the person that she'd written up their story correctly.) As the person tells his or her story, the author inserted some comments into the text (using another font so you could tell that the "speaker" had changed). These included her thoughts about how different their lives were from hers or brief stories about the other refugees that the main story reminded her about.

The stories were well-written and easily kept my attention. While the stories were vivid, they weren't graphic. I keep feeling that all Americans (and people from other 1st world countries) need to read stories like these so we can get a realistic perspective on our own lives. While the author did give an overview of the conflicts in Sudan, we mainly get an individual's personal view of the conflict and how it affected them. We also see the problems that refugees face after they survive the conflict and survive fleeing from it.

A black and white map showing the areas under discussion was included as well as some color photographs of the Sudanese refugees. Overall, I'd highly recommend this book.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
People from over one hundred nations intermingle in Israel. Besides Jews from Kazakhstan and Kansas, Burma and Belgrade, Calcutta, Congo and places in between, over a million tourists every year add to the mosaic. Include in the mixture two hundred thousand legal and illegal workers from countries such as China, Thailand, Philippines, Nepal and Ghana, and it’s clear that the average Israeli is used to seeing faces of all colors and shapes.

In 2007, however, a new group appeared on the scene whose appearance and status was unlike any other till this time. We began to notice men, women, children and babies on the streets in our town of Eilat who were exceptionally black and strikingly tall.

“Where do they come from and who are they?” My husband John and I asked ourselves. “What language do they speak?” Having managed The Shelter Hostel in Eilat on the Red Sea since 1984, we are used to interacting with diverse people groups and were eager to meet these new arrivals.

Our questions were answered when a tall, dark man walked through our front gate one morning. “I’m Gabriel, a refugee from Sudan,” he introduced himself in perfect English.

Read more from chapter one.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

More Than Good Intentions by Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel

book cover

More Than Good Intentions
by Dean Karlan
and Jacob Appel

ISBN-13: 9780525951896
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Released: April 14, 2011

Source: Review copy from the publisher provided as an eBook through NetGalley.

Book Description from Goodreads:
A leading economist and researcher report from the front lines of a revolution in solving the world's most persistent problem.

When it comes to global poverty, people are passionate and polarized. At one extreme: We just need to invest more resources. At the other: We've thrown billions down a sinkhole over the last fifty years and accomplished almost nothing.

Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel present an entirely new approach that blazes an optimistic and realistic trail between these two extremes.

In this pioneering book Karlan and Appel combine behavioral economics with worldwide field research. They take readers with them into villages across Africa, India, South America, and the Philippines, where economic theory collides with real life. They show how small changes in banking, insurance, health care, and other development initiatives that take into account human irrationality can drastically improve the well-being of poor people everywhere.

We in the developed world have found ways to make our own lives profoundly better. We use new tools to spend smarter, save more, eat better, and lead lives more like the ones we imagine. These tools can do the same for the impoverished. Karlan and Appel's research, and those of some close colleagues, show exactly how.

In America alone, individual donors contribute over two hundred billion to charity annually, three times as much as corporations, foundations, and bequests combined. This book provides a new way to understand what really works to reduce poverty; in so doing, it reveals how to better invest those billions and begin transforming the well-being of the world.

My Review:
More Than Good Intentions focused on what programs (or parts of programs) actually achieved their objective of helping the poor. The authors talked about the studies they've done on this and explain their findings about what works, what doesn't, and how various programs might be improved. The authors acknowledge that people don't always act in their long-term best interest, so we need to understand why the poor act in certain ways (including overlooked problems they face), modify programs to take that into account, and test those programs to see if they're working.

The book was easy to read and very engaging. It contained interesting stories of real people that were impacted by these programs. I'd highly recommend this book to those who donate money to organizations that help the poor and to the people who run these programs.

The topics the authors covered were their studies on how to "sell" a program to poor people (as in, get them to use it), various types of microfinance programs (individual, group, along with basic business training, along with specific business advice, etc.), microsavings programs, agricultural programs, educational programs, and health programs (including reproductive health). The last chapter listed the 7 programs that they discussed that they're the most excited about.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One, from pages 3-4, 5
... Sometimes, even when we have all the good intentions in the world, we don't find the most effective or most efficient way to act on them. This is true whether we want to save fish, make microloans, distribute antimalarial bed-nets, or deliver deworming pills. The question is: How can we get beyond our good intentions and to the best solutions?

The only real consensus view on the issue is about the gravity of the problem. Three billion people, about half the world, live on $2.50 per day. (To be clear, that's $2.50 adjusted for the cost of living--so think of it as living on the amount of actual goods that you could buy for $2.50 per day in the United States.) In the public dialogue about aid and development--that vast complex of people, organizations, and programs that seek to alleviate poverty around the world--there are two main competing explainations for why poverty persists on such a massive scale. One camp maintains that we simply haven't spent enough on aid programs and need to massively ramp up our level of engagement. They point out that the world's wealthist nations dedicate on average less than one percent of their money to poverty reduction. In their view, it just doesn't add up. We could get serious about ending poverty, they say, but we haven't even given our existing programs a fair chance. The first thing we have to do is give more. A lot more.

The other camp tells a starkly different story: Aid as it exists today doesn't work, and simply throwing money at the problem is futile. They point out that $2.3 trillion has been spent by the world's wealthiest nations on poverty reduction over the past fifty years and ask: What have we accomplished with all that money? With poverty and privations still afflicting half the globe, can we really claim to be on the right track? No, they say, we need a fresh start. The aid and development community as it exists today is flabby, uncoordinated, and accountable to nobody in particular. It's bound to fail. They argue that we need to pull away resources from overgrown, cumbersome international organizations like the United Nations, wipe the slate clean, and focus instead on small, agile, homegrown programs.

....Jake and I propose that there actually is a way forward....Sometimes aid works, and sometimes it does not....The critical question, then, is which aid works. The debate has been in the sky, but the answers are on the ground. Instead of getting hung up in the extremes, let's zero in on the details. Let's look at a specific challenge or problem that poor people face, try to understand what they're up against, propose a potential solution, and then test to find out whether it works. If that solution works--and if we can demonstrate that it works consistantly--then let's scale it up so it can work for more people. If it doesn't work, let's make changes or try something new.