Staff Spotlight: Insights From a Nonviolent Peaceforce Team Leader
Part of Nonviolent Peaceforce South Sudan, Thenjiwe Ngwenya is a Team Leader in Malakal, Upper Nile State. In this Staff Spotlight, she shares what it means to be a Team Leader in Malakal, an epicentre of communal violence and climate change.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how long you've been with Nonviolent Peaceforce?
My name is Thenjiwe Ngwenya and I'm originally from Zimbabwe. I have been working with NP since September 2021, when I started working as an International Protection officer in Tonj, Warrap state. In Tonj, our work was supported by the Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA). We focused on violence prevention and increasing security for civilians in Warrap State.
What are you currently working on in South Sudan?
I've been the team leader of Malakal site in Upper Nile since August 2022. I’m currently working on an initiative in Malakal, Upper Nile that's being funded by the European Union (EU). Our primary goal in Malakal is to strengthen the community's resilience and support with nonviolent conflict management in areas heavily affected by conflict and flooding.
What are the responsibilities of a Team Leader?
A Team Leader is responsible for managing a Programme site, overseeing its operations, and ensuring successful implementation of programs. They handle personnel management, financial tasks, and administrative duties specific to the site. Additionally, Team Leaders collaborate with the Programme's head office to coordinate logistics, procurement, and ensure compliance with NP's security policies and procedures.
What motivates you in this role?
I am a person who enjoys the challenge of both leading and managing people, therefore this role is a good opportunity for me to demonstrate my skills. Being a Team Leader also gives me an opportunity to represent NP in the community and at meetings with various stakeholders.
I am also motivated because of my desire to help people who are in need, helping communities identify their opportunities and challenges and helping them believe in themselves and come up with sustainable solutions.
How different is your experience as a Team Leader in Malakal compared to other locations?
In the past, I've filled the role of Acting Team Leader in Tonj, which is located in Warrap State. While every location is different, the community of Malakal has a complex context, requiring a unique approach. There are many partners and tribes within Malakal. This means that relationship building has to be strong, especially building trust with community members and through coordination meetings with various partners.
Ethnic and communal violence is a major source of conflict across South Sudan states. How are you supporting community resilience and nonviolent conflict management? Are youth and women being encouraged to have an impact on conflict management?
NP has been training community members on conflict, violence and flood prevention through Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP) strategies. The strategies we train in help prevent the escalation of violence and enhance self-protection skills amongst civilians. UCP also supports in maintaining the safety of community members and building social cohesion. Additionally, a lot of our work involves raising awareness on gender equality.
Community members have used tactics we've shared with them, such as Early Warning and Early Response (EWER) to identify early signs of conflict and other disasters affecting their communities. These practices have equipped civilians with response and prevention strategies to reduce harmful effects of hardships such as displacement. NP has been reaching out to other organizational partners, including mutual aid groups that aren't yet present in the area.
How are you supporting community resilience?
NP is in partnership with Solidarités International (SI) in Malakal. As partners, we've implemented a multi-sector response to assist conflict-affected communities in dealing with climate related disasters. Through combining peacebuilding, WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene), and FSL (Food, Security, and Livelihoods) activities, our teams are striving to enhance resilience and establish a solid foundation for community-led peace. Once communities have the resources to meet their essential basic needs, both in the short and long term, we expect to see a reduction in violence.
Are the communities receptive to this? How?
The communities have been very receptive to the initiative since violence reduction benefits the entire community. Through the partnership with SI, the communities are also getting access to water and farming products. Access to these resources lessens protection concerns in the communities, improving the safety of women and girls, therefore enhancing livelihoods where families become independent.
How do you access the communities?
We access the communities via the river using the boat and in some locations, it is via the road through the vehicle.
What are the challenges of access to the communities?
The locations we are working in are very far. Even when traveling by boat, it still takes us 3-4 hours to reach the community. For this reason, we have to dedicate an entire day for traveling. There are other locations that we cannot reach with a boat during the dry season because the water level would be low, so our only option is to leave the boat in the middle of the river and hire a canoe.
How are you in your role resolving the challenges of access?
As a Team Leader, my team and I have to put our heads together to come up with creative solutions for reaching the communities. When we're first developing these relationships, we simply cannot afford to stop visiting them. Responding to their expressed needs and consistently showing up at regular visits, despite traveling obstacles, is crucial for strengthening our relationship with community members.
It's often said that, 'working for Nonviolent Peaceforce is more than just a job' would you agree?
Working for NP goes beyond mere employment—it becomes deeply personal. As you invest your time and energy, you develop strong connections with the work, the community members, and the location you’re supporting. These connections are cultivated over time through meaningful conversations with community members and various stakeholders. Some of these relationships have blossomed into close friendships! During periods of leave or time away, I find myself thinking of and even missing everyone at my site. This speaks to the lasting impact and significance of the experiences we share.
What message do you have for humanitarian workers working in the complex context of conflict-affected areas in South Sudan?
To the humanitarians working in South Sudan, I would like to applaud them for their continued efforts to try and make South Sudan sustainable again. This is not an easy sector to work in and we face many challenges, but I would like to say, never give up no matter the circumstances. Let us continue to work for humanity and the vulnerable people in South Sudan.
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This activity is a part of our project with Solidarités International (SI) to support community resilience and nonviolent conflict management in conflict and flood-affected areas of Upper Nile and Jonglei States, South Sudan, which is funded by the European Union and supporters like you.