The people of South Sudan have experienced violent conflict for more than 50 years; generations have grown up knowing nothing but war. The most recent conflict, taking place since 2013, has displaced more than 1.5 million people. Children witness the murder, torture, and rape of family members, and are told that it is because of their tribe. Education is cut short, job opportunities are few, and families sit confined in temporary camps, where they face starvation as a result of the conflict destroying their livelihoods.
Violence begets violence: youth are left to ruminate about the horrors they have seen, and feel pressured to act in defense of their families and communities. The UN estimates that 16,000 child soldiers are now part of the fight, as armed groups actively recruit vulnerable youth and use them to commit new atrocities.
By intervening among these youth and their families, the Mediators Beyond Borders-led partnership is trying to derail this cycle of violence. Karuna Center recently became the newest member of this strong project team that includes MBB, Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance (a South Sudanese organization), and Nonviolent Peaceforce. Together, our goal is to “inoculate” these youth against the lure of ongoing fighting and revenge, through the use of MBB’s Trauma Informed Peacebuilding program.
As a very first step toward peace, our focus in South Sudan is educating community women and youth about the reality of trauma and how it drives conflict, and building skills to manage both.
Evidence suggests that most people—not all, but most—do not need one-on-one professional therapy to recover from trauma. Instead, they heal through a combination of supports such as empathy, sustained connection with others, and rebuilding the individual’s strengths and agency. As with all Karuna and MBB efforts, this project takes a culturally relevant approach that builds upon local strengths and social ties to help communities recover and prevent future violence.
A key focus of the partnership's current trip is to work closely with displaced women and youth to create a curriculum for understanding and coping with trauma within the context of the ongoing armed violence. They are working directly with internally displaced people and human rights/peace activists to adapt this curriculum so it will be relevant and practical to the people to be served. This knowledge and skill creates a leadership role for these less powerful community members, as they model healing and violence prevention and guide their communities toward this growth.
This will lay the groundwork for a reconciliation process when internally displaced people who had fled their homes return. Ginny and her team are working in both the displaced persons camps and some communities who will receive them. Whether displaced or aggressors, they will each have to understand the trauma they have experienced and the way it impacts their feelings and conflict behaviors. The project team will be helping them practice concrete skills for coping with trauma reactions in order to do the work necessary to speak of their harms, rebuild trust, and generate genuine attitudes of coexistence that make lasting reconciliation possible.