OPINION: There will always be challenges: being an aid worker in South Sudan

by Moses Abure Dada | Women for Women International
Monday, 19 August 2019 10:00 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

I would love to hear women speaking up, this will help to change cultural norms. And I want to see men supporting them - men and women need to work together

Moses Abure Dada is economic empowerment officer, Women for Women International – South Sudan.

My father was a soldier, he had six wives. Soon after my mother gave birth to me, he died and the other five wives left my mother with all 22 of my farther's children to raise. I saw how my mother supported the family on her own. And one day I thought: my mother doing all of this work, how many other women are doing the same?

She was not paid, she did everything voluntarily. I thought I needed to study and do something to support my community, just like my mother was supporting the whole family. That is what motivated me to get involved in humanitarian work.

In this kind of work there will always be challenges. When things get difficult, I try to have a positive mental attitude. I encourage all humanitarian workers to look after their mental health especially with issues like stress, loss of relatives, tribal disagreements – otherwise they will affect your ability to help others.

When you are delivering services, you have to be neutral and confident, so you can serve people with dignity and humanity.

There are things you can do, and things you cannot do. So you have to learn to let it go. When it comes to security risks humanitarian workers may pay the ultimate price – loss of life – while delivering work.

This is one of the most difficult aspects of the job, especially in the context of South Sudan. Part of the problem here is tribalism – although we are all South Sudanese, our country has around 64 different tribes and there is often conflict along tribal lines. If I am called to work in Upper Nile or other parts where there is a lot of tribalism - it can be very risky.

Robbery is also rampant, and humanitarian workers are often targeted. It has become worse because of inflation and the economic crisis.

Humanitarian workers are targeted because the robbers think we are earning money, so they turn up at our door. Many humanitarian workers are abducted while they are travelling to provide services. Some of our own staff were kidnapped, but fortunately they were released.

Many of my fellow South Sudanese only recognise the need for humanitarian work in the form of relief, food, financial support. But I want to challenge this ideology.

Skills-building is what creates development. South Sudan's Yei River State, where I work, was brutally affected during the 2016 crisis, and women suffered most as a result of the conflict – they were traumatized, widowed, there were many cases of rape and gender based violence.

I strongly believe that a holistic approach of social and economic empowerment is most important in Yei, it is helping to solve the problems that we have.

When you look at the challenges that affect communities, conflict is a big part of it – where there is conflict is where we are most needed.

For Women for Women International, serving conflict-affected women is our mandate and mission, so we cannot justify leaving permanently because of a crisis, we always had to find a way to re-open our programme and continue working.

I would encourage people working in similar contexts to take a similar approach. If you can’t work in particular communities because of violence and insecurity, you can operate in nearby areas where it is safer.

If you set up an office in the town and start to solve problems, gradually you can expand as the situation improves.

As the situation improves here, I would like to strengthen our Men’s Engagement Programme because men are also traumatized, they might have killed many people, and now they are rejoining their families and returning to their wives.

We need to address their trauma, and conflict resolution should be part of the men’s engagement training.

Ultimately, I would love to hear women speaking up, this will help to change cultural norms. And I want to see men supporting them - men and women need to work together.