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Building on hope one year after independence

South Sudan, July 9, 2012

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mathieu Rouquette/Mercy Corps  </span>
    South Sudan Country Director Mathieu Rouquette met these girls in one of the Bentiu markets Mercy Corps has supported. He hopes teams can get back to helping them and others soon in the wake of bombings there this week. Photo: Mathieu Rouquette/Mercy Corps

South Sudan Country Director Mathieu Rouquette met these two little girls in the market in Bentiu, Unity State, when they peeked their heads into a camera shop that recently received a Mercy Corps business grant.

"They were pretty amazed looking at the pictures coming out the printer," he said. "I asked my colleague Matthew to see if they wanted their own photo. They were so sweet, they smiled timidly, looking down. I had not realized that one of them was hearing impaired." But photos communicate beyond words. After a taking a few pictures and hooking the camera up to the printer, "Two copies of the picture came out. Their faces lit up, right before they stormed out of the little shop constructed of sheet metal."

These simple moments of hope and happiness can be rare in South Sudan, where ongoing conflict with Sudan has made violence, hunger and displacement a daily reality for hundreds of thousands of people.

WATCH VIDEO: Local market perseveres after attacks

But today, as the country celebrates the first anniversary of its independence, we want to focus on the resilience that's developing here, while remaining aware of the challenges the country still faces.

As people continue to stream across the border from Sudan and strain already limited resources in conflict-affected communities, we are pursuing new projects that will help vulnerable displaced people and returnees get the food they need now and build stronger agricultural production and livelihoods in the long-term.

Over the past year, we have been helping local business owners open shops and farmers develop better techniques to support themselves and strengthen the local economy in Bentiu.

Now the Mercy Corps team is addressing the needs of 12,000 children in the Abyei-Agok area, and Warrap and Unity States, by building new safe learning spaces, providing educational materials, and providing clean water and hygiene lessons. Making sure that children like these two little girls have healthy surroundings and a consistent, safe place to learn is investing in the future of this new nation.

LOOK BACK at the video from Cassandra's Nelson's trip to South Sudan one year ago.