This training was for South Sudanese women leaders, as part of Karuna Center’s ongoing work with a network of influential Sudanese women in both North and South.
We are starting our third day of workshops this morning. Farah Council of Institute for Inclusive Security and I are co-teaching days on Coalition Building and Strategic Planning. Additionally, I am teaching Managing Conflicts Successfully and Reconciliation/Forgiveness. So it’s a full agenda. Attendance has ranged from 30 to 18 daily thus far. Some of the women are known to us from previous work and others are new; they are varied in age, tribal/ethnic identity, and occupation, although most are with NGOs. They are not varied in heartbreak; each has had a life that no human being should be asked to endure. It is a wonder to me that they carry themselves with such dignity, dress up and show up for workshops, and care for their families as best as possible.
South Sudanese have been massively dislocated by war for decades. Juba was an army garrison town during the war, and its residents moved around within and beyond the southern region. Many women come from Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and have never lived in Juba, while others have arrived here from rural areas having undergone endless hardships and profound loss. Everyone is either internally displaced or else a refugee returning from Kenya, Uganda, Europe, North America. A large group, perhaps thousands, arrived this week in Juba after walking for weeks from Nuba Mountains, far away from here. The tribes raid cattle, which is a traditional method for settling disputes and buying brides, now made lethal by the availability of guns. The border regions between Sudan and South Sudan are fiercely contested, with the Sudanese army responsible for massive death, displacement, starvation. The humanitarian community is unable to enter the region with aid and shelter. Juba has no armed conflict right now, but it remains a shambles of shacks and dust, and does not much resemble a capital city.
Many South Sudanese have ancestral villages someplace in Sudan that they will not likely return to, and they speak a variety of traditional languages, some English and some Arabic, and none of them unifying the country. Under Sudan’s leadership they had Arabic as a common tongue, making them probably the only non-Arabs and Christians/animists whose main language was Arabic. The new South Sudan government mandates English as the medium of instruction but it will be many generations before English is widely spoken, creating problems for unification. South Sudan has perhaps the worst literacy indicators on the planet; I have read that only 5% of girls complete primary school. The women we work with were all educated in the diaspora.
All of this points to an uphill struggle for the world’s newest nation, just 9 months old. The people we meet here express pride in their hard-won independence and seem determined to make a go of it. They depend on their oil reserves for revenue, but the pipeline runs through the north, which is charging them exorbitant fees and thus the pipeline has been shut down and austerity measures enacted. It’s already so austere and difficult that one wonders how much less they can survive on, but somehow life goes on in these strained circumstances…and women show up for workshops, organize for their rights, and express their solidarity for their even less fortunate sisters.
Our work is very well-received here, where the needs are bottomless, every concept is new, and there is so much to express and learn. Each story of tragic loss builds on the last, and each bit of resilience inspires and motivates the women to continue in a forward direction. I bow to their capacity for endurance, and I know you join me in wishing them a more peaceful future.