It has been six years and five months since I joined the Nonviolent Peaceforce family. It all started in Sri Lanka way back in May of 2009, just after my voluntary assignments in Pakistan and Nigeria with Volunteer Service Overseas as a Human Rights and Policy Advocacy Advisor. In the beginning, it was a great challenge adjusting to my responsibilities at NP, which were very different from what I was doing before. My work now consisted of: accompanying vulnerable people to travel safely from place to place, providing proactive presence 24/7 for injured patients being threatened by tribal violence in the hospital, foot patrol, and Family Tracing and Reunification. Although this was a new experience for me, as a member of NP I had to fulfill my assigned duties ̶ regardless of personal internal fears or doubts. Thankfully, with the support of community members and NP staff, I have been able to overcome my fears and excel as a member of the NP family. As I always say to my colleagues in both Sri Lanka and South Sudan, “life is simple... it is just we who make it complicated...” Meaning if you define your goals, stay focused, and most importantly put your heart into your work, everything will be fine.
The experiences I have had with Nonviolent Peaceforce have been interactive and hands on. The knowledge I have about child protection, human rights, and gender-based violence did not come from school or textbooks. Instead, I learned about these issues through my deep involvement with underserved communities. My intimate connections with underprivileged populations have provided me with the necessary lessons to succeed in the line of protection work. I have realized that prioritizing humanity and adding a personal element to protection work provides a deeper level of understanding and acceptance by those you are serving.
I have held many roles within Nonviolent Peaceforce, both in Sri Lanka and South Sudan. My titles have ranged from International Protection Officer (IPO), Team Leader, Human Rights Defender Coordinator, Interim Program Manager, Senior International Protection Officer, and Child Protection Project Officer. I have faced many challenges in all my various roles but the main challenges are to be flexible and recognizing the limits of what I can accomplish.
Nonetheless, here in South Sudan I have had unique experiences. It is here that I learned to appreciate the simplicity of life and to be content with what you have. I often like to pose these questions to my colleagues:
• Why look for fish if we have sardines?
• Why ask for fresh fruits if canned fruit cocktails are provided?
• Or even why look for a house if we have tents?
These are small jokes to prevent the mind from over thinking so many things or dreaming of luxuries, especially when you are in a refugee camp or an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) site. Walking in sweltering heat of 50 degrees C (120 F) during the dry season, swimming through flood waters in IDP camps during the rainy season, and worse, being caught in the middle of fighting at a Protection of Civilians site are memorable experiences that I will never forget. These experiences enabled me to stand strong and be more focused on the responsibilities that were entrusted and expected of me.
NP is doing great work in supporting communities through the formation of Child Protection Committees, Women Peacekeeping Teams and Youth Groups. Through these groups, NP builds the capacity of local communities to protect civilians and build peace.
A wonderful lesson I would like to share with everyone is “don't quit... be patient!” Yes, life here in South Sudan is not that easy, it is giving up oneself for a greater purpose ̶ serving humanity.
by Vincente Pacis, Team Leader for Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan