What was it like growing up during the civil war?

41 days after I was born I was separated from my parents. The community I was born in was experiencing conflict between two rebellious groups. On that Thursday morning, my mother went to get water at a nearby well, when she was arrested. My dad, a shopkeeper in Maridi town, was arrested too. The speed at which the conflict was escalating forced my aunt to flee with me. We walked for 45 days in search of refuge, which we eventually found in a safe space called Dubajti refugee camp in northern Uganda. I narrowly escaped death on the journey - at one point, I was taken and thrown into a nearby bush, while my aunt was tied to a tree and raped. She was screaming and screaming but no one heard her. So, with no phones back then the family got separated and no one knew who was alive or dead. I finally returned to South Sudan after 16 years of living in the refugee camp, but I soon had to leave again due to the renewed conflict there.

Why do you want to be a youth leader?

Growing up as a mentally disturbed youth, I have seen and learnt a lot. Not only are my fellow youth engaging in criminal acts like rape, robbery and theft but teenage pregnancy often leads to many girls dropping out of school. Parents also force young girls into marriage, to provide for themselves and their families. They are traumatised and isolated too. This is something happening to many, not just me. Having worked with orphan children, as well as running sexual and reproductive health activities for young women, I have seen how many young people without parents suffer Ultimately, I want to foster a better sense of belonging and understanding in my country through advocating for children and youth who have been through the same experience as I have, after being separated from their parents during the various conflicts in South Sudan.  

What is the problem motivating your project?

I’m currently living in the BidiBidi refugee settlement in Uganda, which is one of the largest in the world with over 28,000 people, many of whom are South Sudanese who fled the violent conflict in their country between 2013-2016. Sexual and gender-based violence is one of the most common forms of abuse suffered by refugees in the BidiBidi camp, with the victims mostly being women. Among other things, they are beaten up and raped, which makes them extremely vulnerable. Sometimes this even happens while they’re still in school. This type of violence is often motivated by tribalism, as well as a lack of gender inclusivity and fixed ideas about gender roles. The girls in BidiBidi also have fewer opportunities to engage in community activities, instead being told to focus on domestic work. This reduces their opportunities for social interaction outside of their families and tribes, which distances groups further.

How will your project aim to change this?

Our project will aim to educate youth in the BidiBidi refugee settlement about sexual and gender-based violence and identity-based violence, while bringing together youth from opposing ethnic groups. The idea is to run a training to encourage the youth to share ideas and knowledge about preventing SGBV, while developing key peacebuilding skills such as critical thinking, active listening, opening up and empathy building. After the training, the youth will play team sports such as netball, basketball and football together, which will encourage teamwork and build a greater sense of community

Sport is a powerful social tool which can foster mutual understanding and peer support among groups in conflict. It can also increase self-esteem among adolescent girls, giving them the opportunity to overcome gender-related barriers. Hopefully, our project will change the participants’ attitudes about different ethnic and tribal groups, as well as about gender roles. At the same time, we hope the girls will be empowered to continue to play sport and mix with other tribes, which will reduce their social isolation.

Gatkouth currently lives in Mangateen. In Mangateen it is extremely rare to find youth from different communities interacting peacefully due to mistrust and hatred of one another. He believes that Mangateen’s citizens are capable of trust and tolerance and through education and sport this can be achieved. This belief is what motivated him to collaborate with SSYPADO and undertake a project titled ‘Diffusing the conflict among the communities in Mangateen’.

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Gatkouth

Gatkouth's Testimony

In early 2005, when I was just 13 years old. I and my siblings were forced to flee South Sudan to northern Uganda- Imvepi refugee settlement. 

 

We met different families on our way to Uganda, families are living with nothing but a tarp over their heads. Women are giving birth on dirt floors- floors that have turned to mud now that the rainy season is here and there we face challenges as well, given the influx of refugees into the country. Ugandans has negative attitudes towards refugees. They thought we were there to take their land and opportunities,” I recalls. At even that young age, I decided to start advocating for peace in refugee camp. 

 

There, I met different people that I wouldn’t have met in my country, I didn’t interact with people from different tribes in South Sudan.

 

One day, I met a group of refugee women and this is what one woman told me, “Even in the midst of all the pain and all the suffering, there was dignity. South Sudanese refugees just to be able to go home and live normal lives despite the war”. They desperately want to be productive and self-sufficient. The women make small crafts to sell. Some families sell food items from huts. The mothers I met were worried more about their children than about themselves. Above all, they were desperate for their children to be educated, less than half of the school aged children in South Sudan are in classrooms. And in the camps, education is virtually non-existence. The children wander around, some naked, some only partially clothed, malnourished, bored and surrounded by the consequences of hate. 

In 2007 to 2012, the situation in South Sudan was stable and safe so I decided to return back home.  On 18- November 2012, I moved to Yei river county through juba to further my study in high school but still the realities of South Sudan crisis are difficult to truly comprehend. 

In 2018, I travelled to all over Africa Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Rwanda and South Africa for the time. It was an incredible trip for so many reasons. Taking part in South Sudan peace was truly moving experience. 

 

I came up with initiative to form Inspirational Youth Advocacy Network- (IYAN). With aims to transform the communities through innovation and influence young people in the areas of Education, peace building , entrepreneurships, leadership, conflict resolution to protect and promote the unity among the communities in South Sudan.

What is the problem motivating your project with SSYPADO and Rights for Peace?

After the second civil war broke out in 2013,  more than 2.5 million South Sudanese displaced and to 2 million more as refugees, countless are dead and almost the people of South Sudan are facing near famine conditions. Thousands of children, some as young as four to five years old, have been abducted or recruited by armed groups as child soldiers. 

Large and idle youth populations are often easily manipulated, especially if there are unaddressed grievances against certain groups (ethnic, religious, political). Some individuals become so desperate that they will join armed groups to provide for themselves and their families. 

 

With a third of the population displaced- most of them youth lacking opportunities, traumatized by war, and ethnically divided, the situation could become a perfect storm for perpetuating the conflict. 

How will your project aim to change this?

 

I will run three workshops training participants to tackle identity-based violence, prevent and resolve conflict and encourage peace. The workshops will bring together all three communities in Mangateen, encouraging them to work together and start a dialogue between often hostile groups. 

The project will conclude with a sports tournament with teams consisting of mixed communities. Sport is a powerful tool in Mangateen and I hope the tournament will celebrate the progress towards dialogue and tolerance that has come from the project so far. The focus of the tournament will be on values such as respect, sportsmanship and leadership.