Nov 042009
Authors: Kirsten Silveira

Kuier Atem fled from her home in Kongor Village nearly a decade ago, seeking peace after living in a region ravaged by a civil war that has burdened the country for more than 23 years.

And today, Atem, now a Denver resident, has partnered with a local counselor to better the lives of the people she left behind.

In 2000, the U.N. assisted Atem’s move to the United States after a lengthy application process –/providing her with a plane ticket and a home.

“When we came to America, we don’t know the language or the culture,” she said, in broken English, to the roughly 15 people in attendance at Wednesday’s Women at Noon program, hosted by the Office of Women’s Programs and Studies.

After establishing herself in the country, Atem started mobilizing her own non-profit organization to send aid — clothing in particular –/to the people in her village. To carry out this process she needed permits and a loan, and a year ago she was connected with Rhonda Parmley, a Fort Collins psychotherapist, who was interested in conducting similar work.

Parmley and Atem have since been developing a project –/with a five to 10-year timeline –/to build a clinic in Kongor that focuses on maternal care.

According to the World Health Organization, in 2006, out of 100,000 live births, there were 500 infant deaths. Untrained birth attendants performed 78 percent of deliveries.

The team is following a system outlined by the Ministry of Health, an international organization that aims to improve health care systems across the globe. The organization hopes to build a hospital in every capital city, a clinic in every county and an informal medical clinic, which would provide basic first aid, in every village.

The clinic Parmley and Atem are looking to open would replace those destroyed by the war.

Parmley and Atem outlined their plan with the specific goals to improve:

Water quality,

Education and promotion of healthy lifestyles,

Health care of special groups such as women and children, and

Immunization availability.

Parmley said Atem’s stories of walking two days, carrying sick loved ones in a blanket, to reach the nearest hospital, have motivated her to pursue this goal.

The clinic will also aid to treat Sudan’s population, which is constantly under attack by diseases including cholera, malaria and typhoid. Many of the cases result from unsanitary water conditions, dead bodies from the war are often found in primary water sources, Atem said.

In 2010, Sudan will hold its first election since the 1980s that will host multiple parties. Parmley said this is a monumental step for the peace process — one of the deciding factors for when their project will launch.

“All eyes are on Sudan. Can a democratic process ripple out into the country?” she asked.

Jessica Lenderts, a junior anthropology major, said she was aware of the situation in Sudan, and she would like to be a part of the Parmley and Atem’s project.

“It seems like it’s still in its infancy, but it would be nice to help develop something like this from the ground up,” Lenderts said.

Parmley said the U.S. should learn to share its resources and medical knowledge and that she cannot relieve the “strife” with one project.

“We can’t save the world. We can’t make peace by building one clinic, but this is where we can start,” she said.

Over the next six months, Parmley hopes to obtain funding from grants and host collaborative work with other non-government organizations that are interested in aiding the country.

Atem said in the near future she hopes to take Parmley to her village and open her eyes to the conditions her people live in.

“When you see and speak with the people in Sudan it gives you more power to give them what they need,” Atem said.

Senior Reporter Kirsten Silveira can be reached at

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