| By Julianna Merotto
South Sudan – many may not even be able to point out its location on a map. But, the youngest nation in the world has a landscape of rich biodiversity fostered by a tropical climate and the Nile River (1). South Sudan faces many challenges. Leftover conflict from their civil war, food insecurity, droughts, and a shortage of potable water only begins the list of hardships faced by the South Sudanese (2). But, with youth comes also the possibility of exponential growth and development; a possibility that only requires a small catalyst. This catalyst is Seeding Mercy.
South Sudan is no stranger to scorching heat. But, as the years wear on, the summers become hotter, the dry seasons longer, and rain more acidic. A variable climate leads to variable food production. The conditions experienced by the South Sudanese are a product of monoculture farming as well as inorganic fertilizers and pesticides (4). With the odds already stacked against them, South Sudan also has a mainly rural population, up to 80% of people living in small communities (1). Coupled with unreliable transportation methods, the issue of food insecurity extends far beyond the farm.
Aken Tong watched these events unfold before him. He knew there had to be a solution to what ailed the community in which he lived. Tong began to work in the field of Governance and Management in South Sudan. After holding the position for three years, he took his new experience and applied it to further his studies at a South African university. From there he traveled to the United States in pursuit of a degree in engineering. It was here he was finally able to dissect the issues that his community faced (5). It was here the idea for Seeding Mercy was planted.
“Instead of providing bread… teach”-Seeding Mercy
Aken Tong, now a chemical engineer, realized one thing: his community was always offered short-term support but never long-lasting tools. Many organizations had come into South Sudan before attempting to help the “humanitarian crisis” (6). They brought with them grain and other sustenance while claiming to provide a long term solution (5). Tong had seen with his own eyes that these charitable donations of grain were a band-aid on a much larger wound that plagued his home. What would help elevate his community is what elevated himself – an education.
Seeding Mercy, the two-year-old non-profit organization, prides itself on building its families up out of poverty by providing them with the physical and educational tools needed for them to succeed and stay successful. This success begins with a comprehensive and hands-on education into maintaining diversely planted farms with organic fertilizers. These two components alone have resulted in an 80% increase in crops such as sorghum, maize, and nuts (6).
With production so greatly increased, Seeding Mercy allocates each family to keep what they need both for sustenance and to sell. After, the extra seed, product, and fertilizer is then passed down to another participant in need. Tong’s innovative “trickle-down” effect not only creates a sustainable model for the organization but creates a strong sense of community between participants as well (4). An incentive is established that by participating, you will not only help yourself and your family but also your neighbor and their neighbor and so forth. Finally, instead of receiving bread, the South Sudanese were growing their own grains to make their own bread, and these loaves had the potential to span lifetimes.
Just as food insecurity extended far beyond the monoculture farms, the positive and empowering reach of Seeding Mercy has reached far beyond a single community in South Sudan. The non-profit took root at a rapid pace, now encompassing 2,000 families and 500 entrepreneurs in three different regions of South Sudan (5). More so, Seeding Mercy has fed over 5,000 people, all with locally grown crops that replenish rather than hurt the precious tropical environment.
Just as Seeding Mercy prepares fertile and fruitful land for the future, they are also focused on guaranteeing the success and prosperity of their youth. Through their ART!PEACE!! program, Seeding Mercy recognizes and values the unique experiences of each young person who has grown up in a newly developing nation. Upon being sorted into similar age groups, participants of ART!PEACE!! will embark on a journey of self-empowerment through “varied modalities, such as reading, creating and performing” (5). A connection is then built between the youth’s creation of art and their ability to create peace as well. This connection is encouraged to then be projected outward. Youth, ultimately, recognize their own ability to transform the world that they live in, into one of their image, and the talents that will get them there.
To signify their completion of the program, youth will not just be presented with a certificate appointing them a “Healing Community Artist” but will provide the community with a “signature art piece” (5).
Seeding Mercy holds a basic philosophy of mutual respect for three things in life: the people, the animals, and the planet. All three elements are interconnected and warrant the same amount of respect and sense of responsibility.
If all aspects of this philosophy were to truly live symbiotically, the world would look a lot different. Seeding Mercy is helping to create that world.
You can donate to their cause at: www.seedingmercy.org