A scene from Rumbek, South Sudan.

Last July/August, three women from Rumbek, South Sudan, supported by the Mennonite Central Committee, came to the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) international training in Rwanda. They have since conducted some HROC workshops there which is reported below. They have invited an experienced Kenyan facilitator, Eunice Okwemba, to go to Rumbek to help mentor them in their workshops. I then looked at the South Sudan webpage for information on a visa for a Kenyan to enter South Sudan. Their webpage consisted only of a home page with their embassy address in Nairobi, along with two phone numbers. One of the numbers did not work and no one ever answered the phone at the other number. This seems to me to be a metaphor of the condition of South Sudan – it is on the map but not functioning as a country.

South Sudan is the newest nation in the world, having received its independence/separation from Sudan on July 9, 2011. It is a consequence of the War on Terror. The remaining part of Sudan is 97% Muslim while South Sudan is 60% Christian, 33% traditional religions, and 6% Muslim. (Statistics on South Sudan are only guesstimates.)  Therefore the Americans, in particular, were anxious to remove South Sudan from the control of Sudan which was closely allied to the Arab Muslim Middle East. The new nation would be a Christian one with modest oil potential. Although it has (or rather “had”) a population of a little over 12 million people, its territory is vast, about the size of France or slightly smaller than Texas.

Unfortunately South Sudan never developed as a viable state as the two largest tribes, Dinka and Nuer, began to compete for control of the government and the oil income that was the sole mainstay of its economy. By 2013 a civil war had erupted which has kept the country from developing and solidifying as a new state. In the latest rankings on the Fragile States Index, South Sudan received the highest score, surpassing even Somalia.

A map showing South Sudanese refugees in neighboring countries and food security in the country including the area of famine.

Like much of larger eastern Africa there was a drought in South Sudan last year, but it was the civil war that has brought a food crisis and famine to the country. As you can see from the map above, 1,719,328 South Sudanese (14% of the population) have already fled the country. Another 1.5 million are internally displaced inside the country. The area marked “famine” in the map is the first time in the last six years a famine has been declared anywhere in the world. The famine is due, not necessarily because of the drought, but more because of the fighting in the country. Relief organizations have been attacked, their warehouses ransacked, and some of their employees killed by not only the rebel groups but also government troops. Consequently they are not able to supply aid to the most vulnerable areas. South Sudanese continue to flee the country and Uganda, in particular, is overwhelmed. With so many crises in the world, aid to the South Sudanese refugees is underfunded and just last week refugee rations in Uganda were cut in half – in order to survive the refugees are stealing food from the Ugandans’ farms.  

Loreto Girls Secondary School staff participants at a HROC workshop.

Five women came from South Sudan attended last year’s Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) international training in Rwanda. The week before the training there was severe fighting in Juba, the capital of South Sudan with the only international airport. As a result three of the participants were a day late for the training and the other two were three days late. The three women came from Loreto Girls Secondary School in Rumbek, a town of about 32,000 people 234 miles northwest of Juba. This project which includes a girls secondary school and outreach to women in the community is supported by the Mennonite Central Committee. One of their volunteers, Candacia Greeman, wrote the following report on their HROC activities after they returned from the training:

In 2016, we successfully facilitated four HROC workshops in Rumbek, South Sudan. We had a great response from the community and they have been asking for more workshops. One of the workshops was with our Loreto Peace Club members who were so impressed by the power that HROC has to drive real change in the community that they wanted to be able to share what they had learnt with women and children in the local community. They created ‘Listening Circles’ which use lessons learnt from the ‘loss, grief and mourning’ sections of HROC to help community members to learn how to heal from trauma.

So far, almost 20 Listening Circles have been formed as an immediate response to traumatic events in the local community such as death and incidents of intercommunal violence. They comprised groups of 5-20 participants with 2-3 facilitators depending on the age and/or gender of the participants. Participants formed a circle or semi-circle and were guided through a range of activities focused on trauma healing for 45-120 minutes. The Listening Circles incorporated HROC exercises, touch and breathing exercises (from Capacitar) and modes of relating specific to the local community. In February 2017, the United Nations Mission to South Sudan (UNMISS) Civil Affairs Department requested that the Loreto Peace Club members facilitate 3 Listening Circles for students from peace/debate clubs at various secondary schools in Rumbek.

While this may seem a small modest effort in a country beset with overwhelming life-threatening problems, there is a saying in Swahili, Haba na haba hujaza kibaba, meaning “Drop by drop fills the bucket.”

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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.

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David Zarembka

Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC)

P. O. Box 189, Kipkarren River 50241 Kenya
Phone in Kenya: 254 (0)726 590 783, in US: 301/765-4098
Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com/

Email: davidzarembka@gmail.com

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