PWRDF revives food aid project in South Sudan after $100,000 donation

Cereal, beans, lentils, vegetable oil and salt are being distributed under the project to families in South Sudan. Photo: Matthew Sawatzky
Published October 31, 2018

A $100,000 donation from a Canadian Anglican philanthropist has enabled the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), the Anglican Church of Canada’s relief and development agency, to re-start a food distribution project in South Sudan, a country facing severe hunger.

Richard Bird, a retired Enbridge executive who worships at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Calgary, Alta., made the donation last March through the Ptarmigan Foundation, a charitable organization he runs with his family. Because the donation was made to PWRDF’s equity with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, the funds will also receive a four-to-one match by the Canadian government.

Bird requested the funds go toward restarting a food assistance program PWRDF had overseen in South Sudan in late 2017, and in September, the agency began a series of eight food distributions, which will continue to April 2019. The program will see cereal, beans, lentils, vegetable oil and salt given to families in need.

PWRDF does not often receive donations this large, aside from bequests, communications co-ordinator Janice Biehn said.

Bird said he had already been indirectly involved in providing aid to South Sudan through a number of organizations. He has supported a Canadian NGO that ran an agricultural assistance program in the country, as well as Amnesty International and a school in Kenya attended by many South Sudanese refugees. “I’ve been hearing from them how terrible the situation is there,” he said.

The new country, which gained its independence from Sudan in 2011, has been embroiled in an ongoing civil war since 2013. Armed factions that had previously fought together against Sudan’s central government are now fighting against each other and indiscriminately killing civilians.

“It is verging on a genocide,” Bird said.

A September 2018 study by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the U.K. estimated that 190,000 deaths were attributable to the war itself, but that the total reached almost 400,000 deaths when associated factors such as displacement, disruption to health services and lack of food were also considered. The UN also reported ethnic cleansing in the country, and Britain’s secretary for international development last year asserted the country had experienced massacres that amounted to genocide.

Because of the country’s political instability, Bird found one of the biggest challenges facing his attempts to help was in finding a “reliable, trustworthy” way of getting food to people safely.

“If I do something through the Primate’s Fund, then the money’s going to go to the right place,” says retired Enbridge executive Richard Bird. Photo: Contributed

“Generally, my pre-existing aid channels in South Sudan have withdrawn or restricted their on-the-ground activities because of the risk of harm to the staff,” he said.

It was while reading the Anglican Journal that Bird learned about the food assistance project led by PWRDF in South Sudan’s Kapoeta North County in 2017. The idea of giving through the Anglican agency appealed to Bird, who said he knew it to be a trusted organization.

“If I do something through the Primate’s Fund, then the money’s going to go to the right place and not end up in some person’s back pocket,” he said.

The ongoing conflict and arid weather conditions have kept South Sudan in a state of severe food insecurity, with famine briefly declared in 2017. In Kapoeta North County, two consecutive years of minimal rainfall led to crop failure and a severe drought, according to PWRDF.

The area has a “sizable proportion of vulnerable households who remain in the crisis situation and will slide into famine in the absence of humanitarian response,” said Naba Gurung, PWRDF humanitarian response co-ordinator. Without a humanitarian response, he added, “scarce resources can also drive and exacerbate local conflict.”

A number of partners are assisting PWRDF in the project. The United Church of Canada; ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) Canada; Mennonite Central Committee; and Presbyterian World Service and Development have also contributed money. The food is being distributed on the ground by ADRA South Sudan, which does joint assessments of food and other needs to respond to the communities’ contexts. Priority is being given to households with children under five years of age, pregnant women, single mothers, the elderly and those with a physical disability, and households headed by children.

As an Anglican, Bird said he believes in following Christ’s teachings of giving with love. People who enjoy good fortune, he said, are morally obliged to try to help the less fortunate.

“As Christians, we have all the more reasons to do so, as set out so movingly in Matthew 25:34–40,” he said.

Matthew 25:34–40 is the passage in which Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

PWRDF says the three distributions it oversaw in 2017 provided food to 1,700 households in the region.


  • Joelle Kidd

    Joelle Kidd was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2017 to 2021.

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