child carrying blanket

Operation Warm Blanket


January 2007


Home

Prelude 1: 1975-2005
Prelude 2: Nuba Mountains - 2006
The  Nuba Mountains of  Sudan
PrayAfrica! 2006
The Project Begins
Transport
Distribution
Return
A Cooperative Effort
Refuge vs IDP


Copyright Notice

Prelude 1: 1975-2005

      Since 1975 I had been involved in a "holding the baggage" (I Sam 30:24) role in mission work in Sudan - helping missionaries prepare to go, giving advice and encouragement to those in the field, advocating for the people of Southern Sudan in their struggle for freedom.  In 1999 I began working with the Sudanese refugee community in the United States, particularly the "Lost Boys".  Most of my work with Sudanese has been in conjunction with Henry and Deborah Martin and St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, Nashville, TN.  In 2005 I accompanied Henry and Deborah to Sudan as part of the Nashville delegation of the SPLA/SPLM to the inauguration of Dr. John Garang, as First Vice President of The Republic of the Sudan and President of South Sudan.
Salve Kiir and John Garang

street scene, Rumbek
Salva Kiir and John Garang announce the formation of the Government of South Sudan

street in Rumbek, temporary seat of the Government of South Sudan


Prelude 2: Nuba Mountains - 2006

      In the summer of 2006, Deborah Martin and her son Kit traveled to Kauda in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan at the invitation of the Council of Tribal Elders to discuss the possibility of holding a linguistics conference, as well as other possible projects, in conjunction with the Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Organization (NRRDO) and the Diocese of Kadugli Nuba Mountains of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan.  While in Kauda she visited the camp for refugees from the war in Darfur.  The Darfurian elders asked her to carry their plea for aid to the Christians in America.  One thing specifically mentioned was the need for blankets.
Darfurian refugee camp

Darfurian women
camp for Darfur refugees, Kauda

women refugees from Darfur
      On returning to America, Deborah began organizing a relief effort for the camp, mobilizing the assistance of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), Nuba Family Christian Mission and St. Bartholomew's Episcopal ChurchNRRDO and the Kadugli Nuba Mountains Diocese had already committed to help, each in their own way.  The one thing that was lacking was a major funding source for the project.

The  Nuba Mountains of  Sudan

      The Nuba Mountains of Sudan are in central Sudan.  While politically, culturally and religiously linked to South Sudan, they are not officially part of South Sudan according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 (CPA).  Their status was left for further negotiation at the conclusion of the peace conference, thus leaving them in limbo as a sort of no-mans land between North and South.  The Nuba Mountains are for the most part under the de-facto military control of the SPLA, the military force of the Government of South Sudan.  The Nuba Mountains are a region of very rough mountain terrain surrounded on all sides by flat land, the Sahara Desert to the East, West and North and savannas and swamplands to the South.
Nuba Mountains

Nubian houses
Nuba Mountains, near Kauda

houses in Nuba Mountains
      The Nuba Mountains have been the last refuge of the indigenous Nubian Church under 1200 years of onslaught from militant Islam pressing down from the north.
      Kauda is in a broad, relatively flat, fertile valley within the Nuba Mountains which surround it like a fortress on all sides.  It is a highly defensible refuge.

Kauda vally landscape

landscape of Kauda town
Kauda valley

town of Kauda



PrayAfrica! 2006

      In the autumn of 2006, God led Sam Shewmaker to call for a day of prayer for Africa, "PrayAfrica! 2006", on October 20-21.  Three days later, on the 24th, God impressed very strongly on Sam and his wife that God was calling the Churches of Christ to come to the aid of the people of Darfur in their suffering.  Sam immediately began encouraging those he knew were interested in Africa among the Churches of Christ to become involved in the effort for the Darfur refugees.  One question that came up frequently as many people began emailing each other about this was "What shall we do?".  In response to this, I suggested that we could contribute to the project of supplying blankets to the refugees, since the infrastructure for the project was already in place and we would not need to invent a new wheel in order to cause something good to happen. Sadly, those who were most encouraging in this effort had no funds at their disposal, and those in control of large budgets were not interested in a new project for Darfurian refugees.
Darfur refugee mother and infant
Darfur refugee mother and infant
Darfur refugee mother and infant

Darfur refugee women in Kauda

      However, in the midst of these fundraising efforts (and the record of many years will show that I am the world's least effective fundraiser) Greg Timmons, my boss at Lifeline of Hope, committed that Lifeline would find a way to cover the costs of blankets for all the children in the camp.  At that time, the rough estimate of the number of children in the camp was two to three hundred, and the estimated cost of blankets was $10-$14 each.

The Project Begins

      Meanwhile, the funds solicited by IRD began to arrive at St. Bartholomew's, but only slowly.  I was involved in trying to estimate the minimum efficient size for the project.  This was necessary because the only transportation into Kauda is by chartered aircraft, so the transportation cost must be calculated by the planeload, not by the blanket.  We had an estimate that the charter cost would be almost ten thousand dollars, but we had to somehow determine the cargo capacity of the aircraft.  In the end I identified the aircraft from a photograph and Wikkipedia, and was able to find that the manufacturer's listed cargo capacity of the Antonov 32 was 6700 kilograms.  That meant that the most efficient project size was about 2000 blankets, or a similar sized mixed load of blankets and medicine.  This would cost about $40,000.  We had, by that time, just under $1000 collected.
      Then we received definite population figures for the camp.  The total number had grown from under 1000 to over 1600, and the number of children was now just under 1100.  By this time we had better information on the cost of blankets as well - $20 each including transportation to Kauda (assuming a full airplane).  These figures were received on December 16th; on December 18th Greg began a whirlwind fundraising campaign for what he named "Operation Warm Blanket".  In two days of nonstop phones call he raised $24,000; enough to provide blankets for all the children in the camp.  On the the 20th of December I got the word "Operation Warm Blanket is a 'go'".  I made one final effort to raise the additional funds for blankets for the adults in the camp as well, but by Christmas it was obvious that we would only be able to supply blankets for the children.
      In the first week in January it was decided that I would go Nairobi and accompany the blankets to Kauda.  The primary reason for my presence was the concern that without a supercargo for the blankets, there would be some in America who would always question whether the blankets had reached their intended recipients, and that this doubt would hinder future work.
      On January 10th the money began its circuitous journey to Nairobi.  Because the final destination was Sudan, which is on a State Department watch-list, the transfer could only be done by an NGO in the USA with proper clearance from Homeland Security.  IRD and St. Bartholomew's had raised about $3000 by this time, so the total was now about $27,000.
    
Kenyatta Market

Ken in Nairobi
Kenyatta Market, Nairobi

Kenyatta Market, Nairobi
On January 21st I left Baltimore for Nairobi via London, arriving in Nairobi on the evening of the 22nd.  NRRDO personnel met me at the airport and conveyed me to my hotel, the Galexon, in the heart of "Little Sudan" in Nairobi.  The next day I went to the NRRDO office and we finalized the budget for the project.  Once we had selected what we felt was the best value from among the blanket samples provided by vendors, we were able to settle on 1123 as the number of blankets we would purchase and deliver.   On the 24th the money transfer was complete.

Transport

      On the 26th, in the evening, the blankets arrived.  At the petrol station next door to the NRRDO office we transfered the bales of blankets to a long-distance lorry, and sent them on their way to Lokkichoggio.  We would follow the blankets later by air.
blankets in lorry

blankets in lorry
loading balankets, Nairobi

departing Nairobi for Lokichoggio
      When we arrived in Lokkichoggio two days later, the blankets had just arrived.  We checked in at a guest house operated by Norwegian Peoples Aid, and had our papers for entry into Sudan verified.  Because we were going into a contested area, we had SPLA travel passes rather than visas into Sudan.  By this time our party had grown considerably, as several other NGOs were sharing the flight (and its expenses), plus several of the NRRDO staff were accompanying the shipment.  The NRRDO liaison among the Darfurians also met us in Lokkichoggio and would accompany us to Kauda.
NRRDO office, Lokkichoggio

scenery, Lokkichoggio
NRRDO office, Lokichoggio

Lokichoggio, Kenya
      We were supposed to load our chartered aircraft the evening we arrived in Lokkichoggio and then fly out the next morning.  However, shortly after we arrived we learned that "the aircraft that you chartered for tomorrow has just crashed in the jungle".  So we were delayed for a day.  It never was clear whether 748 Transport, our charter providers, had lost one of their aircraft and had to rearrange their schedule to operated on fewer aircraft, or whether they merely needed a day to bang the dents out of the crashed aircraft and put us aboard it one day later.  We suspect the latter.
     
AN-32 aircraft

blankets in aircraft
Antonov-32 receiving blankets, Lokkichoggio

loading blankets, Lokkichoggio
Finally we received clearance to load the aircraft.  In the mean time we had obtained permission from the airport security authorities to photograph the loading process.  Normally, all photography is forbidden at the airport.  I was very pleased to find that our loadmaster was extremely conscientious about aircraft load limits, and all the loaders we very careful about C.G. placement.
      The next day we boarded before dawn.  The AN-32 aircraft was originally a Russian military cargo and troop transport, so to say that the accommodations were spartan is understatement.  To land the aircraft the flight engineer had to remove several fuses from the aircraft fuse panel and hold two bare wires together.  We never learned whether that was to deploy the flaps or to lower the landing gear.
    
unloading aircraft

Kauda airfield
unloading blankets, Kauda airfield

blankets at Kauda airfield
By mid morning we were in Kauda.  The airstrip there is uneven dirt, the passenger accommodations are a row of grass huts housing tea shops and one shade tree. As soon as the blankets were unloaded from the aircraft and loaded on to an ancient Bedford lorry, we went straight to the new NRRDO compound outside of Kauda, where the blankets were unloaded.  (In all we unloaded the blankets six times between Nairobi and the camp in Kauda.)
road near Kauda

scenery near Kauda
road near Kauda

village near Kauda
      In the early afternoon we went to a monthly meeting of NRRDO fieldworkers at the old NRRDO compound.  This gave those of us who were new to Kauda a good chance to see the countryside.  The roads were some of the worst I have ever seen on four continents - even worse than my old driveway in Sykesville.  That evening the camp committee of Darfurians came and met with us at the NRRDO compound and we worked out the details of the distribution.
meeting with elders

laoding blankets
meeting with leaders of the Darfur camp

loading blankets one last time
     Early in the afternoon on the last day of January we loaded the blankets one last time (in the same ancient Bedford) and set out for the camp.

Distribution

      The refugee camp in Kauda has two sections.  One is the residential area, consisting of grass huts for the families.  The other area contains several very large tents which serve as the school.  Our vehicle pulled up at the edge of the school area, but my side of the vehicle was facing away from it, and parked vehicles and other obstructions prevented me from seeing the school area; all I could see was the residential area and the empty space between the two.  So on debarking I began taking photographs and videos of the residential area, thinking we had a long wait until all was ready for the distribution.  I walked closed to the huts, and after photographing the people who were walking toward the assembly area, I began a video with a slow left-to-right pan of the entire camp.  As I started, my back was to the school area and I did not realize that I had now walked beyond the obstructions that had impeded my view.  As the image of the camp slowly scrolled across the viewfinder of my camera, suddenly the picture was completely full of children.  Hundreds of children were lined up in neat rows, youngest to oldest, waiting for their blankets.  I choked up and started to cry.
children waiting

children waiting
children of the Darfur camp, Kauda

children of the Darfur camp, Kauda
            Before the distribution there was a short program.  The Sudanese national anthem was sung, and speeches were made.  The director of NRRDO made a speech, the NRRDO representative in the camp made a speech, the head of the camp committee made a speech, I made a speech.  In my speech I spoke of the difficulty, at first, of raising money for the project, and how in December it had suddenly become easy.  I said that I knew immediately that someone was praying to Jesus for the success of this project, and that on arriving in Africa I had found out that it was some of the camp committee that had begun praying to Jesus for these blankets.  (What is significant about this is that all of these refugees of Darfur are Muslims.  So God is using this experience to teach them the power and love of Jesus.)
Darfur children
Darfur children
Darfur children

children of the Darfur camp, Kauda
      I was introduced to a boy who showed me a picture he had drawn of how the war had affected him.  It was full of houses on fire and people dying.  In America and around the world, all the news media are telling us of the jinjaweed, the militias in Darfur who, either on foot or on horseback, are allegedly responsible for all of the killing and destruction in Darfur.  These armed militiamen were clearly visible in his picture.  However, his picture also showed something the news media are not reporting.  The worst of the destruction was being caused by tanks and aircraft using heavy machine guns, cannons and bombs.  The drawing accurately portrayed the models of obsolescent Russian armor and aircraft known to be used by the government of Sudan, and by no other forces operating in Sudan.
picture of Darfur war

distributing blankets
a hand-drawn picture of the horrors of war

the distribution of blankets begins
      At the end of my speech I walked over to the blanket pile, picked up a blanket, and gave it to the smallest child at the head of the line.  Then I handed out another, and another.  As soon as the distribution thus gained momentum, I left it in the hands of the camp committee and began taking pictures.  I was impressed by the orderly way in which it was done.  One group of men handed out blankets to children, other men lined up the children who already had blankets and had them sit on their blankets on the ground.  A third group of men were handing out blankets to the women with infants, who were sitting in a separate area.
child receiving blanket

children with blankets
the fun part of the project

one blanket per child
      At one point, as the distribution got to the older children, it was halted briefly while the workers unloaded more blankets.  At this time I happened to walk up to the director of NRRDO, who was holding the hand of a small, crying girl.  What is this about?" I asked.
      "Some woman brought her to me. I think she has not gotten a blanket yet." he replied.
     At that, I took the girl in my arms, carried her through the crowd of workers, picked up a blanket from the pile, and put it in her arms.  By the time we got back out of the crowd and I put her down with her blanket, the tears were dry.

Return

      That evening, the NRRDO staff began looking for way for me to return home.  All of the NGOs in Kauda cooperate in this matter, as the planes out can generally accommodate passengers in space which was occupied by cargo on the flight in.  However, it can sometimes take several weeks to find a flight.  I was told there was a possibility of a flight the next afternoon.  I was solemnly assured that I need not pack the night before as it would certainly be departing Kauda no earlier than noon.
      The next morning I was awakened with "Hurry! Pack! You must be at the airport in one hour!"  But then, after a frantic packing job, I was told "You must have tea. After you have tea, she will take you."  This seemed like a bad idea, but what could I do?  So I had my tea, then we went, rather casually, to the airport.  Just as we got there, I saw an airplane turning at the far end of the runway.  I thought "That's nice, perfect timing.  As soon as that plane which has just landed taxies back here, I will get on."  The plane completed its turn, began moving toward us, faster and faster - then over our heads it was gone.
    "We will inquire when is the next airplane."
aircraft at Kauda

Kauda airfield
relief flight, Kauda airfield

waiting lounge and cafeteria, Kauda airfield
      The following morning I got up before sunrise and was packed and ready to go by 07:30.  We were at the airport before 8, some had said the flight was at 9:30, some 9:00, one said "8:30 so be there before 8:00". 
      At 9:30 we got confirmation that "the flight is just now taking off in Lokichoggo.  It will  be here at 11:30 - or 12:00 if it is a big flight."
      At 11:30 we got the word that the flight was canceled due to mechanical difficulties.  Either they had taken off and had turned back, or they flunked the pre-flight and never took off.
moonset over Kauda

dawn in Kauda
moonset over Kauda

the town of Kauda
      On the third day the same airplane which we had chartered for the blankets returned, this time chartered by the local Roman Catholic diocese with a load of Italian food for the staff (plus a lot of other stuff).  It went back empty, except for me, a Roman Catholic priest, and one of his staff.  It was not clear where the plane was going, but it was out of Kauda, and that is all that mattered.  The alternative was a WFP that might go that afternoon, but would only take me to Rumbek.  Later it turned out that the man I wanted to meet in Rumbek is still in Nairobi.
AN-32 landing at Kauda

homes in Kauda
my way home arrives

homestead near Kauda
      At Lokichoggio, the NRRDO staff met the plane and handled my onward reservations, which turned out to be get back on the same airplane and fly to Nairobi with an American team of pastor trainers who were returning from a pastors seminar in Darfur.  (Later it turned out that this same American ultra-Calvinist group has been banned from South Sudan for engaging in slave labor and other human rights violations.  So now they fly directly to a point in Darfur just outside the jurisdiction of the SPLA to hold their seminars.  I am glad I did not let them include me in their group photos.)   This is the same airplane which failed to fly due to mechanical difficulties the day before.
Lokichoggio airport

Lokichoggio airport
Lokkichogio airport

Lokkichogio airport
      By sundown I was back at the Galexon in Nairobi, trying to get FTP to work reliably enough at the Internet Cafe to send my pictures home.  Within a few days I was home again in Maryland.

     While in Africa I had received word that Gracey's "Green Card" was approved, and I had my travel orders from Lifeline of Hope to proceed to India and resume the work there.

Kenneth A. Grimm
Spring 2007

A Cooperative Effort

      This Project was a cooperative effort of the following organizations.  They are listed in the order of their initial involvement.

Council of Tribal Elders of the Nuba Mountains

Martin Technical Services (Henry and Deborah Martin)

Camp Committee, Darfur Refugees, Kauda

Diocese of  Kadugli Nuba Mountains, Episcopal Church of Sudan

Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Organization

Nuba Family Christian Mission

Institute for Religion and Democracy

St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church

Lifeline of Hope

Westminster Church of Christ

Open Content logo Copyright Notice


      Names of persons resident in Sudan involved in the project have been left out.  This is due to no desire to diminish the value of their contribution.  Their names have been omitted to protect their safety.
Edited 26 August 2010