Every dollar matched up to $50,000 until December 31! Give today.
Our SpeakUp® Mechanism
Nonviolent Peaceforce logo with blue dotDonate

Two Leaders Reflect on Breaking Down Barriers Through Learning and Listening

Date: February 14, 2024

In October 2023, at the International Gathering on Unarmed Civilian Protection/Accompaniment in the Geneva area, 84 attendees—practitioners, community and NGO partners, researchers and academics—shared insights and presented evidenced-based examples of their work. Participants attested to how unarmed civilian protection (UCP) has been effective across diverse contexts and why they believe it is essential to building long-term, sustainable peace.

To South Sudanese mamas sit on the right with microphones, presenting to the audience, while conference media and hosts are seen filming them.

First-hand examples of UCP in action were shared by civilians and leaders all over the world— from Ukraine, Colombia, the United States, Sierra Leone, to South Sudan. Elizabeth and Mary, Women's Protection Team (WPT) leaders in South Sudan, spoke about the incredible protection work they've led within their communities.

Reflections from Elizabeth Akon, Women's Protection Team Leader in Rumbek, South Sudan

My name is Elizabeth Akon from Malengagok Payam* in Rumbek East County. I have been working as a Women's Protection Team (WPT) member with NP since 2015, and even after my official duties ended in 2022, I have continued my peacekeeping efforts. While my community no longer requires the presence of NP's Protection Officers, our commitment to promoting peace persists.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Geneva where we showcased the impactful work we are doing in our community. Wearing the WPT uniform not only helps me stand out, but it also earns us the endearing title of 'People for Peace' in our community. Whenever there is a problem or conflict, local leaders (such as chiefs and payam administrators) turn to us for support in engaging different parties and fostering peace.

One particular incident stands out in my mind:

Shortly after the war in 2016, the army had occupied the school in my payam. Our community's chief approached me for assistance in persuading the army to vacate the premises so that the children could resume their education. With ease, the other WPTs and I successfully mediated the situation, and the army relocated to another location, allowing the school to reopen.

I am absolutely happy that NP brought me along to Geneva. The most important lesson I learned is the importance of perseverance and never giving up. We must continue the work we are doing, no matter the obstacles that come our way.

Despite my limited knowledge of the English language, I made significant contributions during the conference. We engaged in discussions about the challenges we face in our community work. It was eye-opening to realize that other places, like Burundi, also encounter similar or even more severe problems than what we experience in South Sudan.

Upon my return to Rumbek, I cannot wait to reach out to our group leader and share all the valuable insights and knowledge I gained from the conference. I’m eager to connect with other neighboring groups in Malek Payam, Rumbek Center, Chuecuk, Mathiangkok, Pachuong, and Malengakok Payams. I will also make it a point to meet with the youth groups and army representatives in my area.

The excitement and enthusiasm I feel about these experiences are beyond words. It is truly a miracle that I had the opportunity to be a part of this conference and witness the shared struggles of communities from different parts of the world. This has only fueled my determination to continue our work and make a positive impact in South Sudan.

Reflections from Mary Nyachat Chuol, Women's Protection Team Leader in Juba IDP Camp, South Sudan

My name is Mary Nyachat Chuol. I am the focal point for the WPTs in Juba Internally Displaced People (IDP) Camp. Our journey to the camp began in 2013, amidst the chaos of war. Determined to overcome the challenges we faced, I took the initiative to form a group of women dedicated to spreading love and peace among ourselves.

In 2015, we were relocated to Jebel, and that's when the real magic happened. I rallied an incredible team of 69 women and provided them with comprehensive training on preventing gender-based violence and transforming their mindsets to survive and thrive. Together, we embarked on a mission to make a difference.

To support our cause, we started selling firewood. It was not just about earning a living; it was about empowering ourselves and our fellow women in the camp. Many of the women in our group hailed from Mundri, Yei, Malakal, Rumbek, and Unity, representing diverse backgrounds and experiences.

My coordination skills, honed during our 15-year stay in a camp in Kenya during the South Sudan war for independence, have been instrumental in leading this incredible team. I am proud to say that I can communicate fluently in Dinka, Nuer, Swahili, English, and even some French!

Our journey has been challenging, but it has also been incredibly rewarding. We have witnessed the power of unity and the impact of spreading love and peace in our community. Together, we are breaking barriers, shattering stereotypes, and creating a brighter future for ourselves and generations to come. I am filled with excitement and passion as I continue to lead this remarkable group of women. Our work is far from over, but with determination and resilience, we will continue to inspire change and make a lasting impact.

While in Geneva, I had an eye-opening revelation: South Sudan is not alone in facing challenges. It dawned on me that people all over the world are struggling with their own set of problems. This realization ignited a fire within me to focus on our younger generation, to instill in them the power of positive ideas that can transform their perception of violence and conflict.

I firmly believe that we must actively engage boys and girls in activities like sports, education, marriage, and the church. These avenues serve as powerful tools for bringing people together and fostering peaceful coexistence. Imagine the impact we can make by nurturing relationships and promoting harmony through these channels!

During my time in Geneva, I prayed for the strength and guidance to bring about significant positive changes in these areas. I am happy at the prospect of being an agent of transformation, working towards building relationships and fostering peace. I feel excited as I envision a future where our young generation embraces unity and harmony, paving the way for a brighter tomorrow.

Let us embark on this journey together, fueled by passion and determination, as we work to create a world where conflicts are resolved through understanding, compassion, and cooperation.

* * *

What is Unarmed Civilian Protection/Accompaniment?

Unarmed Civilian Protection/Accompaniment (UCP/A) is an unarmed, civilian led approach that has been proven to reduce violence, increase the safety and security of civilians and to sustainably contribute to long term human security in complex crisis and violent conflicts throughout the world.

*What is a payam?

In South Sudan, a payam is an administrative area or region within the country. It is a local administrative unit that helps in the governance and organization of regions within the country. Payams are further subdivided into bomas, which are smaller administrative units.

These divisions are important for local governance, service delivery, and representation within the government structure of South Sudan. A payam can be loosely be compared to a town that's broken up into smaller villages (bomas).

* * *

The International Gathering on Unarmed Civilian Protection/Accompaniment (UCP/A) was hosted by Nonviolent Peaceforce and was held from October 9-11 in Ferney-Voltaire, France.

The Policy Roundtable was hosted by the Permanent Missions to the UN of the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Sierra Leone and the Philippines and Nonviolent Peaceforce and was held on October 11 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Editor's Note: Text has been edited slightly for clarity.

You can protect civilians who are living in or fleeing violent conflict. Your contribution will transform the world's response to conflict.