When my flight first landed in Washington DC, the first question that came to my mind was what will I really take back home when I am done with my fellowship? Being a non-profit leader to me means a lot beyond building my own capacity as an individual. Throughout the fellowship program in the fascinating Washington DC, my only concern was how would ordinary men and women in South Sudanese villages benefit from this great experience that I was going through. What is the meaning of holding the title of an Atlas Corps fellow to someone who knows nothing about the United States. As I struggled with all these questions, I was thinking about doing one thing that I would remember in my life as a fruit of being an Atlas Corps fellow. This thinking is what resulted in the formation of Abyei Peace and Human Rights Organization (APHRO).
Many people may know about Sudan and South Sudan because of the longest and bloodiest civil war that took place there. Sudan is very famous because of the conflict in Darfur, Kurdufan and Blue Nile regions. Many also know South Sudan as the world’s youngest nation. However, between these two countries lies a small contested region called Abyei. Slightly the size of Lebanon, Abyei is inhabited by the Ngok Dinka people, a section of South Sudan’s Dinka tribe which is also its largest ethnic group. Another nomadic Arab group called the Missiyiria uses this area during the dry season to access water and pasture for their cattle. During the civil war between Sudan and South Sudan, these two ethnic groups were split in loyalty towards Sudan and South Sudan. This reality made them very hostile towards each others.
When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between Sudan and Southern Sudan in 2005, Abyei was accorded a special administrative status. The area was expected to vote in a separate referendum simultaneously with that of South Sudan, to determine whether to join Sudan or South Sudan. However, this referendum did not take place due to differences between the governments in Sudan and South Sudan over voter eligibility. While South Sudan sees the sedentary Ngok Dinka people as the only eligible voters, Khartoum argues that members of the nomadic Arab Missiyiria must also participate. As a result, a fierce military confrontation took place in the area in May 2011. The result was a total destruction of the entire town and the displacement of more than 130,000 people to different parts of South Sudan.
Houses burned down in Abyei town on 22 May 2011. Picture by UNMIS Staff
With the failure of both governments to reach working solutions to the conflict in Abyei, civilian populations continue to suffer. Non-state armed militias have started to operate inside the area, killing and displacing civilians. Displaced people are still unable to return to their areas due to fears of possible attacks. Life conditions at displacement areas continue to be a challenge. This situation has worsened since another civil war erupted in South Sudan in December 2013. Despite all these challenges, there is still a chance for people in this area to live in peace and harmony.
As youth represent more than 70% of the population in South Sudan, their role in finding lasting solution to such challenges is crucial. In Abyei, youth have long been engaged in violence and reprisals. In order to divert this energy to build peace and to promote respect of human dignity, there is a need for a rigorous process by which youth could find themselves as important players in promoting the message of peace among the other sections of the community. The Abyei Peace and Human Rights Organization is an attempt by youth activists in Abyei to lead this process.
As part of the Independent Community Project designed by Atlas Corps for Sudanese and South Sudanese fellows, and together with a group of the most active young leaders in the area, I co-founded the Abyei Peace and Human Rights Organization (APHRO). The idea is to have a platform for youth in Abyei to spearhead the process of promoting peace and human rights. With the financial support and resources gained from Atlas Corps, the Abyei Peace and Human Rights Organization is now on its way to join a group of national non-governmental organizations that are working in South Sudan to promote peace and human rights.
A technical committee drafting the constitution of APHRO
By using the knowledge and the connections that Atlas Corps’ fellowship has offered me, I am confident that this organization could succeed and deliver tangible results. Luckily, I have chosen to work with a team that have a combined experience of more than 50 years in running non-profit organizations in Abyei area. This wealth of knowledge and experience is what is needed to change people’s perspectives in order to change the world. By turning Atlas Corps’ ideas into tangible actions, I believe I will be able to find answers to the questions that haunted me during my stay in Washington DC. That is why I always believed that the real Atlas Corps fellowship starts when you go back home.