Nonviolent Peaceforce: Urgent Update from South Sudan

. . TOLERANCE AND SOLIDARITY . .

An article by Shannon Radsky, Koch Team Leader for Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan

“You have seen the sun, now show me the moon.”

Koch County is not a place that many would readily consider home. It’s the kind of field site that frustrates you to your core. The heat melts you down to a pool of incoherent mutterings, while mosquitos buzz around your ears, keeping you from that desperately needed sleep. It’s not an easy place. It’s not meant to be. But, the people of this often forgotten county sandwiched in the middle of Unity State – they make a person want to stay. Like the Nuer proverb, “You have seen the sun, now show me the moon,” those of Koch never cease to teach us lessons of life and perseverance. Their struggle is both unparalleled to many and shared by most. Still, this proverb best depicts the relationship that binds our NP Team together. As internationals, we came to the county prepared to implement unarmed civilian peacekeeping, but we quickly realized that our teammates had much more to teach us. We learned from them. We learned from each other. We worked together for peace. Then, the current fighting erupted.

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It’s difficult to describe what a Nonviolent Peaceforce team looks like in the deep field. Some would undoubtedly call us a motley crew, while others would say we’re a band of peace-seeking adventurers. For us, the only word worth its weight is family. We’ve walked hundreds of kilometers together. We’ve driven for days on motorbikes stacked 2 to 3 people high with 50 kilos strapped to our backs and dangling from our sides. We’ve ridden until our thighs, backs and butts screamed with agony. We’ve slept on the ground, in churches, in tukuls, under the stars and in the rain. We’ve slogged through mud, crossed rivers and faced heat stroke together. We’ve also shared countless cups of chai, meals and stories. We’ve worked side-by-side for days and nights. Led trainings, fostered dialogue and brought people together. We’ve grown to know each other’s lives and each other’s motivations, even amidst the violence that persists. There’s simply no other term befitting of our teammates, no other term but family.

From the beginning, we’ve sought to practice the principles of do no harm where we live and work. For us, that means accounting for the safety and security of our national teammates. We’ll never stop worrying about Duop, a man who cares fiercely about his loved ones and whose resolve is striking and admirable. Or about Mary, our Queen Mother and protector. A woman who will trick you with a seemingly shy and silent demeanor but whose voice is bold and whose love for South Sudan is unwavering. Or about Rebecca, a determined leader, eager to learn, and whose aspirations are as high as the Nile is long. Or about Michael. Michael, a man whose patience surpasses anyone I’ve ever met and whose gentle nature is bewildering, given he has already experienced a lifetime of violence. These men and women are civilians. They work for peace. They are our brothers and sisters.

When the day came in early May for the Koch site to be evacuated, our deepest fears were realized. We feared our teammates would be forced to hide and our communication would grow more and more infrequent. Without communication, we were compelled to wait. We searched for information about them wherever we went. We scanned the faces we met every day, hoping that out of the hundreds we saw we’d recognize just one. With every new story of abuse, death and horror we heard we feared that those we care about grew further away from us. Yet, we continued to search for them and after weeks without any word, a glimmer of hope appeared. We reestablished contact. For now, we know they are safe and we are finding ways to assist them. We won’t give up on our family.

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article.)

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