By Kenzie Anderson & Maral Khajeh
“I’ll never forget rehearsing for the International Women’s Day celebration,” shares Kenzie Anderson, one of the hundred plus International Protection Officers in South Sudan whom you support.
“The Women’s Protection Team (WPT) members added my name to the lyrics of a new song, along with the name of my close South Sudanese colleague. They were celebrating the women of the community and included the women of Nonviolent Peaceforce. We danced together—the traditional shuffling of feet with intermittent arm movements and jumps. I smiled and teared up, thinking about where I was and the people with whom I was lucky enough to work. We sang and danced and embraced. Despite a language barrier, we could still celebrate women’s importance in the community, that day and every day.”
While that particular day was unique, building such relationships across barriers is a central part of Kenzie’s work in South Sudan.
“The best part of my job is working with the strong, resilient women of our Women’s Protection Teams (WPTs). We work with local women to create community-based structures for ending violence and protecting civilians.” Kenzie knows that it is the personal relationships that are so critical to the success of her work. “I’ve made it a personal goal to learn the names of the sixty-plus WPT members. They brighten and laugh when I greet them by name. It’s become almost a game, with them testing me. They also teach me the strength of their community.”
Maral Khajeh, Project Coordinator in South Sudan, shares why your support of peace through such personal relationships is so critical. “A shocking number of people in South Sudan are heavily traumatized. They have lived through oppression, wars, and displacement.” .
“I don’t presume that I can enact widespread reforms in South Sudan. Alone, I can’t overturn deeply embedded cycles of conflict, gendered violence, and corruption. But intimate, person-to-person interactions can change lives. For me, that is the essence of NP. We build connections and relationships, and that is how we can overturn cycles of violence.”
We make authentic relationships everywhere, even in the most unlikely of places.
Maral has a perfect example to share from her many trips to the airport in Wau, South Sudan. Once an economic hub, Wau is now an enviable post for NP staff, with its signature cathedral, beautiful sunsets and buzzing market that feels like the Middle East to Maral.
“Upon landing at the Wau airport in north-western South Sudan, you encounter a lady in closet-sized office with the world’s tiniest window. In Arabic, she asks for your passport. On my first visit, I greeted her in Arabic … fortunately! If you speak English to her, your passport ends up at the bottom of the stack. Once, a businessman behind me tried English and received a lecture on how I, the khawaja (foreigner), spoke Arabic and he didn’t.”
In South Sudan, a person who might seem harsh at first may later be helpful or even a friend. “It can be confusing at times, but I try to stay open and flexible, trust my instincts, and remain respectful, always aware that I’m a guest here in South Sudan. That way, I can build relationships with people from all parts of the community.”
In South Sudan, a person who might seem harsh at first may later be helpful or even a friend. Building relationships and developing trust in order to build peace—this is the essential work you make possible when you support Nonviolent Peaceforce.
“With this approach, the ‘angry passport lady’ has become my friend. We exchange small tokens of our friendship: I always make sure to give her a bottle of water to help make that hot room more bearable, and she helps me understand the latest of what is happening in Wau upon my arrival. (And sometimes, she even helps me catch my flights!)"
What does this brief anecdote have to do with our larger aims of nonviolence and nonpartisanship? At Nonviolent Peaceforce, our protection officers know that our work for peace must be carried out every day in our daily interactions.
Strengthening community ties means building and maintaining all kinds of relationships. Together, these daily interactions and encounters add up to forge the trust required to protect civilians, prevent violent conflict, and promote lasting peace. We have all the tools we need to promote peace in the here and now, but it takes each one of us modeling and acting that future out each step of the way.
Kenzie explains that it is these day-to-day relationships that allow us to work with communities towards lasting change. “We live in and work with communities, supporting them as they strive for sustainable improvements. We search for simple solutions that can have great effects.”
Maral Khajeh, Project Coordinator in South Sudan, shares why your support of peace through such personal relationships is so critical. “A shocking number of people in South Sudan are heavily traumatized. They have lived through oppression, wars, and displacement.”
“For example, during the dry season, our Women Protection Team visits neighboring communities. Sometimes we drive for a few hours or take a canoe across the swamps. We conduct training sessions on how to reduce and prevent gender-based violence. I find fulfilment watching women and girls, and men and boys, start to understand these concepts. They want to see peace in South Sudan, and they want to change their communities for the better.”
You have also supported Protection Officers like Kenzie in organizing and leading Preventing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse training sessions. “Conducting these trainings with our partners in both Ganyliel and Nyal, South Sudan was challenging. Although my colleagues, partners, and local community members struggled with complex and important dynamics, I could see the communities preparing to change.”
“We don’t come to explain,” reiterates Maral. “We don’t come with pre-designed solutions. The communities that welcome us know best what they need. Our job is to listen and to facilitate. We live and breathe with these communities and provide whatever support they request. If we can’t, we don’t hesitate to find an organization that can. Practical and effective—that’s NP on the ground.”
Thanks to supporters like you, NP can facilitate daily interactions and relationships, both with individuals and organizations, that result in real change.
Kenzie agrees: “Each day that I get to sit with the WPT women, or conduct a training with engaged youth, or converse with a local elder about the importance of girls’ education, is a day when I experience how change is possible.”
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