Last Sunday, December 15, heavy fighting broke out in Juba, the capital of the newest country in the world, South Sudan. Hundreds of people have been killed and about 20,000 seek refuge at two UN campuses. According to the Human Rights Watch, there is likely that the fighting can lead to civil war as South Sudanese soldiers and rebels have executed people based on their ethnicity. About 500 people have already been killed and the fighting have now reached other states in the country.
As I continue to monitor the situation in the news, I thought of the times when I felt that sense of community among South Sudanese despite of their different ethnicity. The only thing that I can think of is working with my Community Liaison team in the field. I am the only expatriate and the only woman in my team. My local colleagues belong to different tribes and ethnic background. Seeing them coexist as teammates, workmates and eventually as close friends is a joy to watch. It is even more exciting everytime we camp together with the technical team whose members are mostly soldiers with different ethnic background. They play football and cards together, watch football match together, they eat and share meals together, they camp together and travel together. They often teach me the differences in their beliefs and tradition without being offensive to one another. There is always that sense of belongingness and identification as one people – as South Sudanese.
This week’s Photo Challenge allows us to interpret the word COMMUNITY in any way we want. As a way of tribute to my South Sudanese friends and colleagues, I am featuring that sense of community I witnessed in South Sudan to show to the world that amidst the fighting and tribal wars happening in the country, there is still the presence of ethnic diversity among its people — that feeling of oneness and belongingness where one matter to one another.
In particular, I am going to share one of my experiences…one that I will forever remember during my deployment on field with my team. We often travel in convoy, usually in two cars or more if the technical team are with us. I love seeing our land rover vehicles in convoy cruising in the countryside. We are always mindful of following our Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) when traveling because of the insecurities in the areas we go to. Often, we communicate via radio to check one another making sure that we don’t lose sight of each other while on convoy. Because of the bad condition of roads in the country, we often encounter road accidents along the way which makes us stranded for more than an hour sometimes almost the whole day stuck in the middle of nowhere. This is where I often see the spirit of communal unity and cooperation among my local colleagues as well as with the nearby communities.
One day, we were on convoy with the technical team (about 5 cars) heading to a far flung village when we encountered a road accident. A truck was stuck in the middle of the road blocking our way. My men hurriedly went down to check the situation.
They immediately offered to help.
Two of our vehicles got stuck also when we tried to maneuvered to the side of the road. The road was muddy and slippery with huge puddles everywhere. This is always the case when it is rainy season.
Nearby villagers also volunteered to help. It was a sight to behold. South Sudanese of different tribes and ethnic background working as one community.
After all our vehicles managed to pass by, everyone cheered, shaking hands and hugging each other for a job well done.
As the new conflict arises in the country, my prayers goes to my colleagues and friends hoping that they will remain to be the way they used to be — as one family, one community.
There are several images that I wanted to share but I opted not to show them in public to keep the identity of my South Sudanese colleagues.
For more on the current situation of the South Sudan Unrest, please visit UNMISS Videos on YouTube. Here is one of the videos uploaded: