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Blog by Simon Chol Mialith, CARE South Sudan, Peace Building and Conflict Mitigation Coordinator
I come from Panriang County of Unity State in South Sudan, an area that is rich of oil and where, in fact, about 50 percent of our oil reserves get explored. In 1987, when I was in my early teenage years, I joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/ Movement (SPLM/A). At that time, a lot of innocent Sudanese civilians particularly from Southern Sudan suffered from years of attacks on their villages, bombings and fighting. I grew up in a country that had already experienced two decades of war – conflict was all I knew. I wanted to join the liberation struggle for South Sudan; I could not stand the violence anymore and hoped that one day I could live in a free and peaceful country. I became a child soldier.
Me, and a lot of other children of the same age walked from the south of Sudan to Ethiopia, where the SPLM/A base was. We walked for three months. I then spent five years in Ethiopia and after the fall of Mengistu Haile Mariam, the former President of Ethiopia in 1991, we flew back to South Sudan. At this point, I also realized that fighting would not help my country and left the SPLA and seek education opportunities. Making things worse, our return coincided with the split of the SPLA into two groups. These were the most destructive moments in the history of the South Sudanese struggle for freedom, when both parts of the liberation movement turned against each other. This split divided two of the main tribes in South Sudan, the Dinka and the Nuer. Both started fighting against each other and that divide lasts until today. It is one of the reasons why it continues to be so difficult to bring a stable peace to our country.
However, that time also proved a turning point in my life. I got an opportunity to go to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in North Western Kenya, where I could attend school for the first time in my life. It was very tough: the area was dusty and very hot, I had little food to eat and I had neither parents nor relatives to provide moral and material support to me. I came to Kenya with many other child soldiers. We became known as the ‘Lost Boys’.
However, suffering was nothing new to me. I have seen and experienced it before, so I stayed strong. Finishing my education was my only wish. Why? Because I wanted to contribute to building my nation one day; I was waiting for the day when peace would finally come to South Sudan. That was my motivation. At that time, I saw many of my school comrades leaving for the United States of America where they get resettled. I still have contact with some of them, via email, Facebook or Skype.
After finishing my education, I felt that I needed to join the humanitarian world to save the lives of poor people and help the victims of violence and conflict. I especially wanted to contribute to peace building and conflict resolution. Given my personal experience, I believe that there can’t be development without peace. Conflict destroys lives, livelihoods, it devastates a whole country. So I finally turned my life around from being a child soldier to becoming a peace builder.
For nine years, I have worked with national and International organizations in South Sudan and outside South Sudan at senior positions. Today I work with CARE South Sudan as Peace Building and Conflict Mitigation Coordinator. I train CARE staff on ‘DO NO HARM’ principles and give technical support to our peace building officers. In practice, this means that we need to assess carefully the potential conflicts we could create when implementing a project. CARE works in areas that are still very insecure, where fighting between tribes occur daily. So for example, we need to ensure that we are not seen as assisting one tribe in favor of another. We need to be aware of all these sensitive aspects of conflict, so we don’t accidentally create violence. We also help communities settling conflicts, training them in reconciliation methods and setting up peace committees in villages. We as CARE have been working with some of these communities for a long time, they know us and accept our assistance.
I believe that almost five decades of war and conflict had deep impacts on the South Sudanese population. People are traumatized, scared and angry. When people only know conflict, it is difficult for them to transfer to a peaceful society. It takes time to heal the scars. So we have a lot of work ahead of us to build a peaceful and stable South Sudan.