Nyajima became the breadwinner of her family after her husband left her. With no job and three children that relied on her, Nyajima’s only opportunity to provide for them was to collect firewood to sell.
Every day, Nyajima would leave the Juba United Nations Protection of Civilian (PoC) site to collect as much firewood as she was able to carry. She would give half of what she collected to an old neighbor, keep a small amount for cooking and sell what was left on the market.
Firewood became hard to find as many women would collect firewood around the perimeters of the PoC. Nyajima had to walk farther and farther into the bush. One day, after walking a long distance to collect enough firewood for the day, she realized she was lost. She felt disoriented by the unfamiliar surroundings and her impaired vision made it worse. Nyajima wandered for hours trying to find the road she came from, when she was suddenly stopped by soldiers. They led her to their barrack and assaulted her. Then they dropped her off back at the PoC and disappeared.
She didn’t seek help at first. She needed to tell her husband before anyone else. That was what was culturally appropriate. Nyajima hoped her husband would decide what to do next. However, he was indifferent to her situation. She was afraid of the stigma surrounding gender-based violence victims. But after three days, Nyajima decided to go to the hospital to report what had happened to her. Yet it was too late to receive emergency contraception and nine months later she gave birth to her fourth child.
When Mary, the leader of the area’s Women’s Protection Team heard about Nyajima’s situation, she immediately took action. She gathered members of her team to help. Throughout Nyajima’s pregnancy, the women would come to her house to help with chores and childcare and provide her with emotional support. These women are trained in basic psycho-social support and are able to provide referrals to appropriate case management, psycho-social and justice services.
Originally from Jonglei state, Mary came to the Juba PoC with her family at the end of 2013. She recalled that “people [in the PoC] were fighting all the time. We were like animals. We didn’t have any forgiveness.” Mary witnessed a lot of violence while living in the PoC. Initially, she didn’t know how to respond. But Mary says things changed after she started attending Nonviolent Peaceforce trainings on nonviolence, conflict resolution, gender-based violence and leadership. “I learned how to handle different problems, help others, and welcome a new person in the community.”
The way Mary and her teammates were able to respond to Nyajima’s case is proof of how effective Women’s Protection Teams are in addressing gender-based violence in the community. “I used to blame myself. And when I was not crying, I was sick,” Nyajima recalled.
On the days that Nyajima feels down and life is especially hard, she tries to stay optimistic and emphasizes the importance of talking to someone about your feelings.
Being a part of the Women’s Protection Team and talking to team members helped Nyajima slowly get back on her feet. “I feel powerful to be part of the group. When I can’t attend the meetings because I’m taking care of my children or collecting firewood, I feel that something is missing.”
Rose was devastated when her husband was suddenly killed in 2016. Like Nyajima, she didn't have any family members who could support and protect her eight children and herself. Similarly, members of the Women’s Protection Team helped her recover. "I learned that all the women in the Women’s Protection Team face different challenges, but they have forgotten about it and moved on. I wanted to do the same," she said.
Over time, Rose slowly recovered. She regained hope and wanted to support others too as a member of the Women’s Protection Team.
One day, when Rose was going to visit her sister in town, she saw a woman going into the bush with a knife. Rose noticed that the woman seemed distressed and decided to follow her. As Rose learned later, the woman wanted to kill herself. The woman had lost her child. Her husband, who blamed her for the death of the child, had beaten her for two days. She had given up on life.
Being trained as a Women’s Protection Team member, Rose knew what to do. She provided emotional support to the woman by sharing her own experiences and helping her seek support. With other Women’s Protection Team members, Rose assisted the woman to address the situation however she decided to – in this case, to leave her abusive husband and access the services she and her children needed.
Because of the awareness and knowledge gained she’s gained as a Women’s Protection Team member, Rose is now better equipped to prevent gender-based violence and help survivors access services and recover from trauma.
Nonviolent Peaceforce is grateful for our supporters – a big thank you especially goes to the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in South Sudan who specifically funds our gender-based violence work in South Sudan. Supporters like you allow civilians to be trained in independently protecting and supporting themselves and others in their communities.