by John Sulieman Ojlema, Nonviolent Peaceforce International Protection Officer in South Sudan
Written February 7, 2013
Please allow me to introduce myself and provide some background about my life. My name is John from South Kordofan, Sudan.
One year prior to my birth, war broke out in my state of South Kordofan. This unfortunately was not the first, nor the last of many wars. My first experience of war started two days after I was born, when my village was attacked. I spent much of my childhood in fear and my family struggled to keep us safe. They did this by hiding in the bush and moving us around.
I started my education learning under trees until my father was able to send me to a proper school in 1989. However, in 1993 our school was bombed and several of my fellow classmates were killed. Luckily my brother and I were not badly injured. Again in 1995 after we had moved schools, our new school was bombed and many people died. My mother then made the decision to split up my brother and I, so we wouldn’t both die at the same time.
I stopped my education and tended cows, while my brother proceeded with his schooling. However, escaping war is impossible in a war zone. As I was grazing my family’s cows, I was kidnapped by the armed actors. They beat me until they broke my collarbone. They placed me in a deep hole in the ground, where I remained with little food and water for a month. I received no medical attention for my collarbone. After one month my collarbone healed and I was forced into being their slave. They made me bring firewood and fish for them. One day I was finally able to escape and return home; my family had already presumed me dead.
When the war began In June 2011 I was in the capital city of South Kordofan, Kadugli. Armed actors surrounded the city and we were unable to escape. We received a call from our friends outside the city, who said we should not leave. They advised us to stay in our compound. People who were attempting to leave the city were being killed. We locked ourselves inside the compound for three days. Our food finished on the second day and our caretaker decided to walk to the market to buy food. She also wanted to see her family to make sure they were safe. Our caretaker was stopped by some soldiers on the way back from the market, close to the door of the compound. She was raped and shot dead. We saw all of this happen from a tiny hole in the fence.
That night we escaped from our compound. We were directed on where to go by our friends outside the city. We walked for one day without food until we reached a safe area. Unfortunately we were unable to bury our caretaker. We hoped after we left that she was able to receive a proper burial.
In order to escape Kadugli, we had to walk over the mountains surrounding the town. As we were fleeing we saw many people in the city being killed by the soldiers. Some soldiers noticed that people were escaping through the mountains and started to shoot at us. My friend was killed.
We reached Umsardiba on the third day, where we stayed for three months. We were continually bombed during that time. One day a bomb was dropped very close to me, approximately two meters from where I was standing. The blast knocked me off my feet and I was buried under a pile of dirt. I was lucky enough to survive the blast without any injuries.
Two weeks later a bomb was dropped on the house next door to mine. The entire family was killed, except for the four-month-old baby.
In September of last year, my colleagues and I decided to go to the market to buy some food. At that time it was very difficult to get supplies to the area, goods were sold in the bush. Upon our return from the market we were ambushed by soldiers from the north. Five of my colleagues were killed and three people were injured. Three of us were lucky enough to survive without injury. By this time Yida camp was already open, so I decided to move to Yida to escape the war.
When I arrived in Yida I saw an advertisement for a national protection officer position with Nonviolent Peaceforce. I applied and participated in the interview process. I was very happy to hear I had been chosen as the successful candidate. I have been working with Nonviolent Peaceforce ever since. I enjoy working to protect my community and assisting the vulnerable people in the camp. I do not know what the future will hold for my people, but we will continue to stand strong as a community and face the challenges together.