January gets its name from the Roman god Janus who is often depicted as two-faced, not in a deceptive way, but in a way appropriate for the beginning of the new year. He looked both backward and forward. That is what we are doing at Catholic Relief Services during a January that is very important to us and so many of the people we serve.
This month, in a referendum scheduled to begin on January 9, the people of southern Sudan will go to the polls, voting on whether to remain part of Sudan or to secede and form their own country. I have written to you about this before because it is such an important event for Sudan and indeed for all of Africa.
At CRS, we have committed millions of dollars to peacebuilding in the run up to this referendum, working mainly through partners in the Sudanese Catholic Church. We made this commitment a year ago because, looking back, we could see horrific violence stretching for decades. In the last round of fighting over the status of the south, over two million died. Millions more were displaced.
And that made us look forward to a different future for Sudan. If this referendum goes smoothly, its results respected by all, then Sudan, north and south, can be on the way to fulfilling its potential and becoming a prosperous and peaceful country—or countries if that is what the voters choose. That is the future we are looking toward. With your prayers and support, it can come to pass.
It will not be easy. In the best case, this will be a rocky road. As I write this we are assisting thousands of Southerners who have been living in the North to return to their traditional homes in the South. Even as we work for peace, we are preparing to help those who fall prey to violence and chaos. But we do not want the past to define Sudan’s future. We have faith that this month will mark an important step on a new journey for this oft-troubled country. We hope you will join us in that faith.
Also this month, we look back on a horrific event. A year ago, on January 12, an earthquake struck Haiti not far from its capital Port-au-Prince. In an instant, more than 200,000 people lost their lives. A million or more were homeless. As you know, at CRS we went to work immediately, providing food and shelter to hundreds of thousands of people. Your generosity in the days and weeks after the earthquake touched and inspired us.
We have been working hard to live up to the faith you have shown in CRS. We have accomplished much in the last year—from the immediate distribution of food, water and emergency shelter kits, to helping medical staff continue hospital operations, to building sturdy temporary shelters and battling the spread of cholera.
We also have our share of frustrations. We always want to do more. And threats like Hurricane Tomas and the outbreak of cholera, an illness unseen in Haiti in a half century, added to the troubles of our Haitian brothers and sisters.
But as we look back, we also look forward. We work hard to be good stewards of your contributions because we want them to help us fulfill a vision for the future of Haiti that goes far beyond handing out food and building shelters. We must construct Haitian-led institutions that will provide the foundation for a fundamentally different country, one that does not look for handouts to survive the next few days or weeks or months, but that instead uses the bounty of your generosity to make fundamental changes that build initiative and independence.
We have been in Haiti for decades and we will be there, we know, for decades to come. The Haitian people are wonderful—resilient, resourceful and resolute in their faith. We must help them become active citizens of a country that will reflect those strengths. That is what we see when we look forward.
Sudan and Haiti present difficult problems. One has a history of almost endless violence; the other of intractable poverty. But even as we look back on these pasts, we ask that you join us in looking forward to different futures. With your prayers and support, we can make those futures happen.
Thank you for letting us serve you.
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