Building Peace From Within: The Case of Young South Sudanese
Despite efforts of host governments and international organizations, displacement is, for those who survive conflict and disasters, a highly traumatic experience, especially for young people. They may feel disenfranchised and resentful and dream of revenge – plotting the conflicts of tomorrow. They run the risk of becoming a “lost generation.”
Today, as we honour World Refugee Day, we celebrate the courage and commitment of 146 young peacemakers who have built peace and social businesses in Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan – despite insecurity and violence during an ongoing civil conflict.
”We must plant the seed of hope. We must nurture the seed of peace. Together it’s possible.” said Forest Whitaker, renowned artist, also founder and CEO of Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI). In this spirit, the Mastercard Foundation has partnered with WPDI to support the Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN) in South Sudan. This program strengthens the leadership capacity of former child soldiers, orphans and youth impacted by conflicts and violence in South Sudan. The goal is to empower youth with peace-building and conflict management/mitigation skills, life-skills as well as digital skills to help build a network of young leaders able to strengthen their communities by implementing community-building projects. In this way, South Sudanese youth serve as agents of change contributing to nation-building and peace from within.
Michael Ajeo Paul was a former child soldier. He is a member of YPN. ”Peace is now an integral part of my life,” he said. “When war erupted in July 2016, a group of soldiers occupied a school in my community and turned it into a barracks. After consultations with the elders and the families, it was decided that I will be sent to ask the soldiers to leave so that children could resume learning and take their exams. I was sent to talk to their commander. I explained to him that barring access to schools destroyed the future of the whole community — a community in which some of the soldiers had parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews. They eventually agreed to depart. This was a great victory!”
”We also feel victorious when we succeed in convincing young people not to “go into the bush,” and join armed groups. We have started training other youth, and we have formed local advisory councils to facilitate our work in our communities. The Community Learning Center that WPDI established in Torit has been very important for our work. We provide computer and peace building trainings to young people from payams (local districts). Community members can come to the centre to take courses, use computers, and access the Internet. It is becoming an important part of community life.”
In addition to restoring peace in their communities, these young people have received support to build social community businesses in agriculture, agribusiness, construction, and retail sector. In recognition of their courage, the launch event of their businesses in March 2017 was attended by many community members, government officials and community leaders. In addition to be messengers of peace, communities recognized that the businesses are essentials for them to further their leadership skills, increase productivity in the community, and accelerate local development. They have become inspirations for other youth in their communities. They have mentored and coached many of them, and currently, they can hire other youth to work with them in these community businesses.
Hidita Scovia, one of WPDI youth peacemakers, member of the YPN, and community project leader in Torit, said: “The launch of our agribusiness community project has reinforced the sense of unity among our group and notably among the local youth we had started training. The community in Torit has also experienced changes in standard of living, especially because it offers occasional jobs. This project has also changed the lives of young people who had made wrong choices in their lives, like becoming gangsters: we enrolled them in the project and, thanks to the little pay we can provide, they have started going to school.”
WPDI has also successfully developed leadership skills for many youth who have become advocates and leaders in their communities. For example, some youth peacemaker leaders have been enrolled by State Governors as mediators for official peace processes. Boniface Lochebe was elected as a Member of the Parliament representing Kapoeta North; Ukongo Martin was designated as head of the Youth Union of Eastern Equatoria State; and Magdalena was appointed as member of the Peace & Security Commission of Imatong State.
Through this program, we have learned that lasting peace and sustainable development in conflict affected countries can be achieved by building transformative leadership of young people from within. ”Young insiders” have courage to lead transformative change. This has proven to be true, when peace building activities from ”young insiders” have continued and succeeded on the ground while, at times, development partners had to phase out for security reasons. As Michael said, ”Peace is built by working together, from within.”
Originally published by MasterCard Foundation