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In southern Sudan, voting for their destinies

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The road may be long, but across southern Sudan people streamed to the polls to cast their votes. Photo by Alun McDonald/Oxfam
The road may be long, but across southern Sudan people streamed to the polls to cast their votes. Photo by Alun McDonald/Oxfam

Tomorrow marks the last day of a week-long referendum in southern Sudan that could conclude with the creation of a new country. Across the region, voters headed to the polls to decide whether the south should break from Sudan and become its own nation or stay part of a unified Sudan.

The day after voting started, my colleague here at Oxfam, Judy Beals, sent all of us a message about what is unfolding in Sudan—a historic moment for a country torn by decades of strife and civil war. It has particular resonance for Beals, whose family moved to rural South Africa when she was 5. Growing up as a white child in apartheid, hearing only state-sponsored media and attending government boarding schools far away from home, she said she was oblivious to the realities around her—until 1976, when she moved to the US and landed on an American campus just as the Soweto riots erupted, unleashing the anti-apartheid movement globally.

“Learning, for the first time, about the country I had grown up in was overwhelming, shocking – and the beginning of my life’s work,” recalled Beals.

Here’s the message she sent about Sudan:

Beginning Sunday, the people of Sudan voted on their future. Reading about that voting–the long lines, the stories behind every vote and voter, both in Sudan and among diaspora communities everywhere, including in the US–brought me back to April, 1994, when I spent the day at the State House in Boston, simply bearing private witness as South Africans of every race voted for the future of their country. Even now, it stirs such deep, visceral emotion–the incredibly powerful act of ordinary citizens voting for their own self determination. Not sure what else to say except how proud I am to be part of an organization that stands for rights, dignity, and social justice.

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