Limi is a quiet community removed from the main roads of Kajo Keji. Off the beaten path, the beauty of its people match the rolling green landscape that leads towards the mountains dividing Central and Eastern Equitoria. Walking into Limi’s market for the first time in July, one man immediately caught my attention. Part of what drew me to Emmanuel was his visibly handicapped condition, but it was also his constant smile and a demeanor that radiated joy. An invariable presence at his shop that sits at the front of the market, I could not visit Limi without pausing for a short visit. Now, spoken slowly, through a beaming grin, he told his story.
South Sudan is a country filled with hardship, and everyone has a story. For many, their struggle was brought on by a life spent in exile due to a history riddled with war. For some, the war was just the bottom layer of their struggle. Like everyone else, Emmanuel didn’t ask for the challenges in his life, it was the portion he was handed.
“When I fell sick at the age of twelve years, I was down and I couldn’t work like these days. I used to crawl, and I could not crawl long distances.” Emmanuel was forced to drop out of school. Up to that point, life was normal, and in Africa, an education is a promising ticket out of poverty. His sickness had left him crippled and unable to speak. That was in 1996, during his time as a refugee in Uganda. A few years later he would return to South Sudan, but it wasn’t until 2008, at age 24, that Emmanuel started a business. During those interim years he did what he could, helping his brother farm vegetables.
However, the story only begins here. Emmanuel told me he had a great testimony. “After I got saved, God restored me.” He was restored not just spiritually, but physically as well. “I got the strength to stand. I could stand on my own, and I could move on my own. Supporting myself with the stick, and before then also I was not able to talk. But after that I started also talking. I could speak. Now I have a strong faith in God because He is my savior. He saved me from that hopeless life were I was down and completely lame.”
With the ability to speak and walk short distances on his own, Emmanuel began his current business with the small capital of 200,000 UGX (Ugandan Shillings), about 80 US dollars. This is the business I saw eight months ago when he was applying for his first loan with Seed Effect. Now in his third loan cycle, Emmanuel shared that he saw his business “moving.” “I love doing business for sustainability and adding the loan into my business.” He said that the help of the loan “gives me the dreams of expanding the business to that level where I can get whatever I want. I can eat whatever I want to eat.” He is even planning to acquire some mode of transportation, saying, “If I want to go anywhere I should have my own means of transport.”
Just one year ago, almost all of Emmanuel’s profits were recycled back into maintaining the business, resulting in little to no savings. “I wasn’t sleeping well. I had no peace,” he said. Now that a political peace rests upon the nation, people are searching for personal peace and stability. People like Emmanuel and others are yearning to move beyond merely surviving. Now, he is seeing that stability and peace arrive. Over the past eight to nine months, Emmanuel said that his “savings is now above one million UGX [$400].” This is more than double the size of an average client’s first loan.
This new savings has led him to begin plans for building a larger store and a place for raising pigs. These are both goals that were not possible before the loan. “I had tried, and failed,” he said. Now as he shuffles out of the doorway of his current shop, he is able to show me the pile of clay bricks that will make up the walls of a new and larger store, a current, tangible realization of his former dream.
In a place where farming is essential to life and existence, Emmanuel’s only option to earn a living is through business, and he is always ready to point out God’s role as the provider. “I learned through the discipleship to be faithful to God in my business. My business should be God purposed… if I trust God and stay faithful, God will bless it.”
Emmanuel’s courage and faith is not uncommon among communities in South Sudan. Even through a life of perpetual hardship, the resolve of peoples’ spirits enable empowerment to transform lives as individuals take hold of their future for the first time. During my time with Emmanuel that day he said to me, “People say I am a good man, but don’t know it.” Spoken with humility from a man who inspires and brightens not only my life, but also that of others around him. Any day of the week, one can pass through the small market in Limi and catch a glimpse of Emmanuel’s smile and the contagion of joy on the faces of those he is with.