I was born on the eve of civil war in Sudan. In South Sudan, we call the beginning of the war Kokora, when southerners mobilized to resist the Khartoum government. For this reason, my parents decided to name me Malish, which in Arabic means “sorry”. They were sorry the war had started.
I was raised in a country that has endured more than 21 years of armed conflict between the government of Sudan and South Sudanese armed groups. I spent my childhood in areas where the Southern People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) operated in the bush for the duration of the war. Over two million southerners died and more than two million people fled their homes to neighboring countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Kenya, while others escaped to Europe and the USA. In fact, South Sudanese scattered all over the world. But as part of a minority tribe who didn’t have the resources to go abroad, I bore witness to the violence.
I felt unsafe and restricted because I was living in a remote village where people were vulnerable to terror and recruitment by armed groups. We were deprived of education and other services usually provided by the state, and forgotten by those who had the luxury of security.
Like many youth during this period, I decided to join the SPLA/M in the bush. I was 12 years old. I enlisted at a place called Mapoko in Yei County, Central Equatoria State. This was also my attempt to gain a sense of security – if you weren’t a part of the SPLA/M, you feared them. As a soldier, I was based far from home, and found it difficult to adjust to the daily reality of military life.
A year later, my father came to the barracks to bring me home. He asked if I was interested in developing my career as a soldier or going to school and becoming a professional in a career of my choice. I chose the latter.
That same year I went to Uganda for my education, and after finishing primary level I joined the Yei Catholic Diocese to become a priest. The college is a seminary renowned for its teachings in peace and reconciliation. I developed skills and knowledge in this area and dedicated myself to work wherever people were in situations of need.
As an Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeper with Nonviolent Peaceforce in a post-conflict zone, I am a highly motivated agent of change. Every day gives me the chance of strengthening relationships with vulnerable people within the remotest zones of the country, building their capacity to prevent violence, and providing proactive and direct protective presence for those at risk of violent conflict. As part of NP’s Central Equatoria Child Protection Team, I conduct family tracing and reunification activities for unaccompanied minors or children separated from their parents due to conflict or abduction. We also deal with cases of gender-based violence in various communities.
We form peacekeeping teams of women, youth and influential community leaders in communities where NP is operating, so as to bridge service and security gaps. I feel it vitally important to realize peace in the South Sudan as the majority of my people were traumatized by the war. Working with NP gives me a true sense of significantly contributing to the rebuilding of a just and peaceful country, one step at a time.
By Malish Philip Gali