Poverty Gives Himself to Others

South Sudan

November 26, 2007

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matt Streng/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mercy Corps Sports for Peace and Life program raises youth awareness of HIV/AIDS and helps them make better lifestyle choices. Photo: Matt Streng/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Christianne Kivy Bosco/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Poverty Tabaan (in black t-shirt) helped Mercy Corps reach hundreds of youth in southern Sudan. Photo: Christianne Kivy Bosco/Mercy Corps

Poverty Alfred Tabaan was born as Sudan was entering its second civil war (1983-2005) and learned quickly that he would need to be resilient to succeed in life. During the war, he and his family fled to Uganda where the family settled.

His name, Poverty, was given to him because he was born at a time when destitution and scarcity was rife. To pay his school fees, Poverty sold roasted maize by the road side and worked as a casual laborer during school holidays. While in Uganda, he made an arrangement with a local carpenter: he would work without pay in exchange for being taught basic carpentry skills. Poverty was hungry to develop skills that might help him find employment.

After completing his secondary school education in 2003, he returned to southern Sudan determined to make a living for himself. He joined the only carpentry workshop in Yambio, Western Equatoria State and just a year later had raised enough money to start his own carpentry workshop. Today, this workshop provides Poverty with a modest income and employs six carpenters.

Impressive as it is, Poverty's success story doesn't end there.

Becoming a community role model
Poverty found out about Mercy Corps' Sports for Peace and Life (SfPL) program through one of the carpenters in his workshop. He had been a member of Young Talk in Uganda, a youth magazine that tackles issues on peer pressure, sex, HIV/AIDS, and responsible living. Poverty joined SfPL as a mentor and showed promise from the start.

When he couldn't find motorized transport, he would ride his bicycle to keep up with the sessions he led with his youth team. He was among the first coaches to complete the training and graduated 105 youth. Poverty's involvement with the SfPL program reinforced his previous resolve to abstain from sex until marriage and keep himself safe from HIV/AIDS.

Parents of the youth he worked with trust him with their children and one parent praised Poverty by saying he hoped his son would follow in Poverty's footsteps by choosing to be resilient in life, work through hard times and commit to helping others.

But Poverty didn't stop with his own team. Instead, he joined other coaches to help them complete their programs. He often paid visits to other coaches, talked to them about the program and helped them review their games and activities to make sure they implemented them correctly. Traveling long distances to help other coaches has established Poverty as a role model to youth and coaches throughout the state.

Rising to the occasion
Poverty worked closely with the Ministry of Social Development, impressing ministry officials with his commitment and dedication. In addition to training other coaches, Poverty filled the shoes of the local ministry SfPL project coordinator when he was unable to carry out his duties.

His hard work and commitment didn't go unnoticed. By the end of the SfPL program earlier this year, Poverty was hired by the Ministry's Department of Youth and Sports to join the effort to build a brighter future for the youth of southern Sudan.

In his new role, Poverty will be enriching the lives of youth for years to come.