Book Review: ‘There Is a Country: New Fiction from the New Nation of South Sudan’

There Is a Country2Last year, McSweeney's gave us our first taste of South Sudanese literature — a collection of eight pieces by South Sudanese writers titled There Is a Country: New Fiction from the New Nation of South Sudan.

The publisher notes that the volume, edited by Nyuol Lueth Tong, is "the first of its kind, from the youngest country in the world."

Just over three years ago, the people of South Sudan gained recognition as a sovereign nation. Young and old took to the streets, crying, laughing and waving flags.

The New York Times, in reporting on the historic occasion, noted, "A new nation [is] being born in what used to be a forlorn, war-racked patch of Africa, and to many it [seems] nothing short of miraculous."

Over the last two years, however, the celebrations have given way to far more ominous circumstances: continuing tensions with the North, violence between political factions in the country, displacement of entire communities and the threat of famine.

It's perhaps fitting, then, that the stories in 'There Is a Country' fall somewhere in-between the celebrations and the sporadic violence. There is romance, mischief, family conflict and dreaming — the stuff of community life everywhere, whether in the American suburbs, or in one of South Sudan's refugee camps.

In "Port Sudan Journal," Victor Lugala tells the story of a 25-year-old who has slipped across the northern border into Sudan carrying a black rucksack with a pair of blue jeans, some boxer shorts, a toothbrush and a diary, ostensibly seeking out a long-lost uncle.

"The diary had been a birthday present from my Ugandan friend, given to me before I'd left home," the young man says. "It was as if he knew that one day I would be far away, wandering without a destination in mind."

In "Escape," by Edward Eremugo Luka, the narrator describes his late-night run from a group of men friendly with the North. The action appears to take place before South Sudan's independence, after the main character's family has safely fled their hut outside of Juba. As he turns his back on his now abandoned home, he vows to return one day in the future.

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Q&A: Micro-Entrepreneur Discusses Impact of Medical Expenses on Her Family's Struggle to Overcome Poverty

Even when a woman or man is finally able to access lending and savings opportunities, as well as training in basic business skills, the road out of poverty is still never easy. In this interview, Supiati, who lives outside of Jakarta, Indonesia, shares her story and discusses the impact her husband's medical condition has had on her income-generating activities. Fortunately, Five Talents and our local partner, The Gerhati Foundation, help group members in Jakarta's slums gain access to free medical services on a quarterly basis. Click here to read more.

Supiati QAEarlier this year, there was a lot of flooding in Jakarta. How did this impact your business?
It happened suddenly at night and so we had made no preparations. We acted quickly to keep the electronic goods safe by placing them on top of the tables and cupboard. By that time, the water had already risen to below my knees. We all had to move out of the house for weeks and stayed at a place near the traditional market, a place where the floodwaters did not reach. Unfortunately, I was unable to open up my kiosks, and so fell behind with the loan installment.

How did Five Talents through our partner organization The Gerhati Foundation help you during this time?
I am grateful that we were granted some leniency [on our loan repayment]. Also, we received three separate packages of donated goods during the flood, as well as free access to a medical clinic. I thank God for Gerhati who also helped us with an additional emergency loan.

Since first joining the Five Talents program, how has your business developed?
I made chicken porridge in the past, but I failed. Other people were selling the same thing. Afterward, I tried to cook light meals that kids usually like, such as eggs and instant noodles. It is running well and I sense the need to get into the business more seriously. I can now buy things I need to support the business, like a refrigerator that lets me keep a good stock of ice cubes, drinks, and pop ice. [My] glassy display case is also another thing I bought with the micro-business loan.

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Job Opening: Donor Relations Officer with Raiser's Edge Experience

hiring smlrFive Talents is hiring! Do you know someone with database management experience who is looking to pick up some part-time hours?

The Donor Relations Officer is primarily responsible for ensuring quality and timely processing of gifts and managing the Raiser's Edge database. This opportunity is a part-time role working out of our office in Fairfax, Virginia.

Click here to view the full job description and requirements. We'd love it if you shared this link with your church network. You may also visit our Facebook Page to share our post about the job opening with your friends.

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Five Talents' Sonia Patterson Accepts 2014 Brava! Award From SmartCEO Magazine (Updated)


On July 30, at the Harbour View, in Woodbridge, VA, SmartCEO magazine honored Five Talents President and CEO Sonia Patterson with a Brava! award, highlighting Sonia's leadership, creativity and passion for serving others.

SmartCEO's Brava! Awards celebrate top female CEOs in the Washington D.C. Metro Area who combine their irrepressible entrepreneurial spirit with a passion for giving back to the community. Brava! Award winners are exemplary leaders of their companies and their communities. They encourage local philanthropy, mentor future leaders and set their companies on the path to tremendous growth.

SmartCEO received more than 200 nominations across the Mid-Atlantic for the award. A group of Greater Washington business leaders formed the Brava! committee and chose the 32 winners.

"Brava winners possess the utmost qualities in a leader — vision, passion, compassion, dedication, perseverance. Every one of this year's winners exhibits these qualities in running their business, their families and their philanthropic activities. They give 110 percent of themselves," says Jaime Nespor, regional president of SmartCEO Media. "We are honored and humbled to recognize a group of women who are truly making a difference in the world."

The event kicked off with a high-energy cocktail reception followed by an engaging, video-packed awards ceremony. An impressive audience of friends, colleagues and family came together to celebrate the winners' achievements.

"Making a living is one thing; making a difference is quite another," reads the magazine. "But that is exactly what the 2014 Brava! Award winners do every day: Make a living for themselves and make a difference in the lives of those around them. From their employees to their communities, these women have made it a priority to give back."

Sonia's passion for Five Talents and the women and men served by our microfinance, microsavings, and business skills training programs is especially contagious and has helped the organization energize hundreds of new supporters and advocates over the last two years.

Click here to read SmartCEO's feature on Sonia and other 2014 Brava! award-winners.

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A Video Invitation For You and Your Friends to 'Walk With Us'

Walk With Us: Provide a Helping Hand Along the Road Out of Poverty from Five Talents on Vimeo.

We're excited to share with you this short video slideshow featuring photography from Adam Dickens, a longtime Five Talents supporter, along with an invitation to "walk with us" as a monthly donor.

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Come Along On a Journey That Will Transform the Way You See the World

Walk With Us

Have you ever jogged a trail, walked a dog, or meandered through a park and come home totally and utterly transformed?

Perhaps you burned a few calories, learned something you never knew, or recharged thanks to a few moments of solitude, but were you changed? Did you return home with a new perspective about your place in the world?

Likely not. Upon coming through the door, you probably threw your keys on the table, kicked off your shoes, and moved on to some other activity. After all, there's always another task to tick off our lists.

Every once in a while, however, we are given an opportunity to participate in something special, something good, something with eternal ramifications. The two fellows that Jesus spoke with on the road to Emmaus certainly had a story to tell -- and re-tell a million times -- when they returned home from their walk.

"Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road?" they asked, shortly after "their eyes were opened" and they recognized Jesus.

Today, we're inviting you to participate in a journey that will transform the way you see the world. We want to introduce you to the women and men who are participating in savings groups, investing in micro-businesses, taking part in training workshops and striving to lead their families out of poverty.

We want to introduce you to folks like Deng in South Sudan, Edo in Indonesia and Simona in Bolivia. We want you to walk with them, participate in their lives, and -- at the same time -- transform your own.

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Faith, Action, Coffee and a ‘Quiet Rebellion Against the Powers That Be’

Editor's note: Jeffrey Myers, founder of Abednego Coffee Roasters, is donating 25 percent of his company's July sales to Five Talents. Here, the small business owner shares about his passion for coffee and the global community.

Jeffrey Myers2bOne of the things I love so much about coffee is that it connects people. It is about community. When you share a cup of coffee you are not only connecting with your friends and family you are connecting with coffee growers all over the world. The only product I can think of that comes directly from Mbale, Uganda, or Aceh, Sumatra, or Huehuetenango, Guatemala is coffee. It connects us.

Coffee = Passion
I developed a passion for coffee on Mt. Elgon in Uganda. I was part of a small team from Iowa State that traveled to Uganda to talk with business owners.

One of my discussions was with the manager of the Bugisu Coffee Cooperative in Mbale, Uganda. While sipping some of the world's finest coffee I thought, "I love this – the industry – the people – the coffee."

Faith = Action
But to really know something is to experience it. Put a different way, I can read about the physics of roller-coasters but until I experience one I really have no idea what they are like.

I think faith is similar. I always felt guilty when I read in James that "Faith without works is dead." I think faith is supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be experienced. Faith with action is alive. The greatest experiences of my life have been when I think I hear God's voice call me to action and I respond in faith. James isn't trying to make you feel guilty, he is trying to make you come alive.

Abednego Coffee Roasters
We started roasting coffee in March 2008. I had this idea that I wanted to roast the best coffee I could find and give all our profits away. A bit idealistic...but I left a job in the corporate world and was tired of the status quo. We even called ourselves Abednego Coffee from the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as kind of a quiet rebellion against the powers that be – saying we don't care if we survive but I guarantee we are not going to play by your rules. We have survived.

And this brings me to Five Talents. I love business. When I see businesses that are thriving I get excited. Business is one of the most beautiful ways to express our freedom – our freedom to create, innovate, design, and implement.

The wonderful thing about Five Talents is that it works to create an environment of freedom in the realm of business. People with great ideas, great passions, and great desires are now free to express and develop what God has placed on their hearts.
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Video: How a Holistic Approach to Financial Inclusion Works to Fight Global Poverty

How a Holistic Approach to Financial Inclusion Works to Fight Global Poverty from Five Talents on Vimeo.

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of blog posts featuring Q&A videos with Five Talents President and CEO Sonia Patterson. Click here to watch the first video in the series. The video series will address questions pertaining to Five Talents, our partners, our approach to financial inclusion and microfinance, and our impact in some of the world's most under-served communities. The videos were generously produced for Five Talents by the Giving Library.

For most women and men struggling to provide for their family, a micro-loan often isn't enough to transform their income-generating activities into a sustainable enterprise. It can certainly help, but other factors can often continue to stall out progress. If the borrower has not learned to save, he or she will not have an emergency fund for sudden expenses. If the borrower has had little or no education, he or she may not be able to add or subtract or properly manage income and costs. The borrower might also need hope, encouragement, training -- all things that a micro-loan simply cannot provide.

That's why Five Talents' holistic approach of combining microcredit with savings group formation, business skills training and mentoring is incredibly effective and transformational.

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The Millennium Development Goals: In Another 15 Years, Where Will We Be?

UN Millennium Development GoalsThe cover of the United Nations' 2014 report on the Millennium Development Goals shows a class of school children sharing a column of benches beneath a tree.

A teacher looks on as one student, a girl, writes on a chalk board. Some in the class have fixed their attention on the lesson. Others have let their gaze wander. One boy can be seen studying the ground, perhaps eyeing a troop of ants on the march.

In 15 years, where will each of these young people be? And what will their world be like?

Experts inside and outside the UN are presently mulling these questions over. They are drawing up a new set of Millennium Development Goals to be released in 2015. The first set of MDGs was outlined in 2000.

The 2014 report released this month provides the most complete analysis yet of the world's progress – or lack thereof – on a range of issues that include hunger and poverty, education, child mortality, maternal health, disease and gender equality.
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This South Sudanese Man's Ox-Plough Is an Investment in His Children’s Education

Editor's note: The following interview offers an in-depth look at the life of a micro-entrepreneur named Deng, in Lietnhom, South Sudan. Five Talents – through its partners – has served tens of thousands of women and men in Sudan and South Sudan, providing access to micro-loans, savings groups and business skills training. Deng's story is just one of many exhibiting the transformation that can take place when under-served communities experience financial inclusion. Special thanks to Josephat Lusuli for conducting this interview.

Deng at his micro-businessThanks for agreeing to share your story with us, Deng. Can you start off by telling us a little about your family and business activities?
"I am married and currently I have five children. I am a member of a savings and credit association [or 'savings group']. I run a retail shop in a Lietnhom market in which I sell foodstuffs and other retail items. Besides this, I also sell dry fish in the same venue. Initially, before joining the savings group, I was running a business that, unfortunately, failed."

Why do you think the business failed?
"I am convinced that, by then, I was very green in business. I had not received much of the small-scale business training that I have now, and also I lacked adequate capital to invest and boost my business. It is no wonder that it finally collapsed. Later, I decided to venture into farming groundnuts and sesame as a business. I must admit that I made some money from it, and it was a good decision."

What was your life like before you joined the savings group?
"There were a myriad of issues and challenges. First of all, as a community man, it is culturally expected that I fully provide for the needs of my family and my extended relatives. At this point in time, all things seemed to be falling apart. My business had collapsed, I had no access to loans, it was proving hard to access adequate food and clothing for my family, school fees and school uniforms for my children were needed, and, to add on these, people from whom I was claiming my cows refused to honor their commitments. Worse still, it was hard to sell some of my cows. [To sell a cow, Deng had to obtain permission from local administration officials, which was not easy.] After joining the savings group, I was able to access a loan, which I used to start my current business. I received a lot of support from my group members, who – among other things – guaranteed me a loan. My current loan is for 2,400 South Sudanese Pounds [about US $600], payable within three months."
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