Travel Benefits

February 12, 2008

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Abdisamia, Khamjan, Ahmed and Abbas (left to right) stand on the road they helped repair in an area of Sudan where development was hobbled by war. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

Abdisamia bought oil, onions, sugar, coffee, salt, a pair of trousers for himself and two pair for his son so he could wear the proper uniform to school.

Abbas purchased a flashlight, a white jallabiya and a goat, which he plans to milk now and sell later when he needs cash.

Khamjan also picked up a jallabiya and a goat, along with clothing for two of his children.

And Ahmed took home a bag of sorghum for his seven-member family, the pink button-down shirt and white skullcap he's wearing and the Casio on his wrist.

This is how four Mayok residents spent the roughly $75 U.S. they earned by repairing a 30-kilometer stretch of road linking their village with Kurmuk town. It illustrates how our cash-for-work projects make a tangible difference for people who lack life's basics — and how, at the same time, they bring development to communities marred by 21 years of civil war.

Repairing the road from Kurmuk to Wadega was identified as a priority by one of several groups of residents (in this case, the Community Infrastructure Committee) we convened to guide us in spending economic-development funds from the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. One reason: Wadega, which lies 30 kilometers beyond Mayok, is the drop-off point for 3,000 Sudanese refugees expected to be repatriated from Ethiopia in the next month or two. But the UN refugee agency needed the road repaired to make it happen.

Residents in Mayok were grateful for the chance to do their part. Thirty-one residents were chosen by the community to fell trees, clear tall grasses and fill the most egregious potholes. Another 50 from Wadega did the same on the road from Mayok to the small UN way station outside of Wadega.

The couple dozen of Mayok's 8,400 residents who gathered during our visit said their only source of income is what they make selling their sorghum and sesame yields. One noted that Mercy Corps is the only organization ever to put money in their pockets — money the village chief, Amin Sabdiq, said injected much-needed cash into the local economy.

What's more, the chief added, the improved road has increased the traffic of passenger lorries and goods trucks to the area. More items are available at the weekly market, and residents who can afford to hitch a ride into town now enjoy a quicker, less bumpier ride.

And the quartet of Abdisamia, Abbas, Khamjan and Ahmed — along with 27 of their neighbors — have their own reasons to celebrate.