Stu McCutcheon has made 16 trips to African country on behalf of CEDASS group
By Pat Payton
Over the past decade, Thorndale area farmer Stu McCutcheon has made 16 trips to South Sudan to help the people of this war-torn African country.
A project in 2021 is to ship a 40-foot container of goods to the community of Jebel Lado, which is 25 kilometres north of Juba — the capital city of South Sudan. The container will be sent by boat to Africa later this year. Among the items sought include: clothing, footwear, books, school supplies, medical items, cooking and serving items, sports items, bicycles, hardware and building supplies, and tools.
McCutcheon collects the items at the former Plover Mills public school, located between Heritage and Fairview Road. “People can call me and then arrange to drop their stuff off there or I can pick it up,” he says.
Those wishing to donate items/financial support can contact McCutcheon at: 519-878-9417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stu McCutcheon belongs to a local group called CEDASS (Canadian Economic Development Assistance for South Sudan) that was started in London, Ont. CEDASS is 100 per cent volunteer based and funded privately. Their mission is to help South Sudan create a sustainable economy through agricultural and economic training for the local people.
McCutcheon originally got involved with CEDASS in 2011 after talking with Rev. Tracy, a former minister at Thorndale United Church.
“At that time, Rev. Tracy knew that I was looking to do some agricultural mission work,” McCutcheon said in a recent interview with the Independent. “This was back in 2010 when Rev. Tracy was at a meeting with David Tennant who founded the CEDASS group. CEDASS is a very small group and everybody is from London or the London area.”
McCutcheon describes CEDASS as very “site specific.” In other words, they only work on one large plot of land.
“We don’t travel around South Sudan; we are on one site only,” he says. “David had gone over to South Sudan looking to do economic development, in 2005, after 50 years of war. Wars (between tribes) are going on continuously.”
After trying to do some farming in 2009, CEDASS went back in 2010 and tried again. But CEDASS soon found that they needed someone with more farming knowledge. That’s when Rev. Tracy told Tennant that she had the man the group was seeking.
First trip lasted three months
“She put me in contact with David,” McCutcheon recalled. “That was in March, and in June I landed in South Sudan and spent three months. I went over by myself, got picked up, a guy drove me around for three days, and then he handed over the keys to the car and said ‘we’ll see you.’ It was pretty wild.
“I had a manager over there, who I would pick up each day, but it was a pretty interesting challenge.”
His second trip to South Sudan lasted two months.
“My trips there since then have been two weeks to five weeks,” McCutcheon notes. “I was going in June and July to try and get the planting done. Then I would go back in November to help with the harvest.”
In 2013, McCutcheon flew to Nairobi, Kenya to seek out fertilizer, seed and planting supplies for their Jebel Lado project. Prior to this, all supplies were shipped from Canada.
In 2015, a group from the Netherlands (TTV) indicated that they would like to take over the farming operation from the CEDASS group. TTV had a successful farming project in a drought-plagued area of Ethiopia.
“By 2016, we had the community agreeing that TTV could take over for us. They were going to take over the farm, and we were going to stay and do the humanitarian work with the community,” McCutcheon recalled.
“But in 2016, the war broke out again. The Netherlands group struggled to get the locals to sign an agreement that they would work together. When the war broke out in July, they sent us an email saying they weren’t going to pursue it any farther.”
In the fall of 2016, the CEDASS team went back to do the harvest. A group from Israel (Green Horizon) had arrived, who had U.S. aid money, and they wanted to take over the farm.
“They looked at three or four other locations, but they really wanted the CEDASS Canadian farm because of the close proximity to the capital and because it’s right on the Nile (River),” McCutcheon said. “They ended up taking over our farm the following year.”
The Green Horizon group has now cleared and irrigates 600 to 700 acres for farming.
Got school started again
In September of 2017, a CEDASS team returned to Jebel Lado to re-establish and improve an elementary school for Grades 1 to 8.
“There was a building there and a few students and a couple of teachers, but nobody had been paid,” he recalled. “We paid the teachers and got some teachers hired back on and got some supplies in. And the school started running again, and kids actually passed and graduated in 2017.”
McCutcheon made two trips to Jebel Lado in 2018, and three more in 2019.
In 2019, the school added a kindergarten class. About 500 students now attend the school. “If the kids want to do secondary, right now they have to go into the city (of Juba),” he says.
It is noted that more 50 per cent of the children in South Sudan don’t go to school.
The CEDASS group also started a medical clinic in the community, which currently employs seven people. They hope to open an orphanage in Jebel Lado as well, but that is still a question mark. “I don’t know if that one will ever develop or not,” McCutcheon admits.
Another project is to provide a clean water pipeline for the community. “We’re partway into that one,” he said. “With Covid, we’ve lost a lot of time and projects shut down on us.”
Another CEDASS project is called ‘Keep the girls in school’.
“When we implemented that in 2019, we didn’t have one girl quit school which had never been seen before,” McCutcheon noted. “A lot of CEDASS focus is trying to give the women a better status in life. It’s male dominated and they view their women as property. Sometimes there is some anger towards what we are trying to do.”
McCutcheon’s last trip to Jebel Lado was in January of 2020. He hopes to go again soon.
“I have a love to try and help these people,” McCutcheon summed up. “I was gifted to grow up in agriculture and I was taught how to work. These are things I’ve bestowed onto my family and now I want to bestow them onto someone else.
“Our goal now is to teach agriculture to a small nucleus of people. We try and learn from the Sudanese people, how to teach them better and lead by example. Being a part of the CEDASS team has allowed me to fulfill my dream.”
–Over the years, CEDASS has been responsible for sending five or six containers full of goods to the Jebel Lado community.
“A huge thank you to everyone who donated to the CEDASS container that travelled to South Sudan in 2018 and 2020,” McCutcheon adds. “You have made it possible for us to send over 100 bicycles, more than 400 boxes of clothes, shoes, school supplies, medical supplies, etc.
“But what brings us much joy is this is the first library this school has had. Thank you.”