Team of Place for Hope Peacemakers in South Sudan

Jennie Chinembiri and Ruth Harvey   11 Apr 2019

From 27th February to 7th March we were privileged to travel to Kenya and South Sudan. The purpose of the visit was four-fold:

  • To attend the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan and Sudan’s (PCOSS) partners meeting
  • To train and assess 7 PCOSS leaders in mediation
  • To conduct a one day workshop on ‘Establishing a peace makers network in South Sudan’ with the original group of PCOSS leaders trained
  • To visit the PCOSS head office, women’s department and Nile Theological College

The visit began with the PCOSS partners meeting in Nairobi, including representatives of partner churches and agencies from Scotland, Ireland, the USA, Australia and Switzerland.  It was a good opportunity for PCOSS to present their strategic plan for the next 20 years and for partners to gain a greater understanding of the initiatives each were involved in.

The following day began the further training and assessment of seven of the PCOSS leadership, all of whom were assessed through practical and written work.  All passed and were commissioned, gaining a certificate as a Place for Hope Practitioner, accredited by Scottish Mediation. 

From Nairobi we flew to Juba where we were able to bring together 18 of the original 28 participants who had been trained in 2016.  

It was wonderful to be reunited with old friends as we began the 4thmediation training programme. We began each day with worship led beautifully by Ken Ross.  Each morning we began by offering some skills training and refresher training on skills they had previously learned.  The rest of the time was devoted to assessment of skills through role play, onerous for some, but an excellent way to assess skills. 

During the skills training we were able to talk more about their context and were able to go through the different stages of a mediation discussing what would or would not be appropriate within a South Sudanese cultural context, which of course varied from tribe to tribe.  It was a fantastic learning for us as trainers and this will enable us to adapt the training material for them in October.  For example, when preparing for a mediation, where we might arrive early to set up a room, ensure tea and coffee is available, prepare the flip chart and resources, our colleagues in South Sudan told us that their equivalent preparation would be to ensure enough chairs are available under a suitably shady tree, and that there is water for all. 

We also heard heart breaking stories relating to the conflict in South Sudan.  We heard of the interventions that they had personally carried out for example, in some communities where agreements were made to stop cattle raiding and child abduction, the youth would break this agreement.  There are many reasons for such conflict, from the breakdown of the rule of law, to the need to have 40 to 50 cattle in order to provide a dowry for a wife, to women unable to bear children asking for a child to be abducted, with the reward being 40 to 50 cattle to allow the man to marry.  We asked why so many women couldn’t have children and were told many had syphilis leaving them infertile.  It was hard to hear these stories, but these emphasised even more the need for this peace and reconciliation work to be carried out.  One participant told us how he had been able to retrieve three abducted children, and begin the process of reuniting them with their families.

We flew together, having said farewell to Ken, to Juba.  On arrival the security presence was heightened with soldiers lining the streets and military aircraft flying overhead.  We learnt that both the Eritrean and Ethiopian presidents were about to leave the country, which was why the traffic was at a standstill and there was such great military presence.  

The next day we welcomed 22 participants, 18 from PCOSS and four from PCUSA to a workshop looking at ‘Establishing a network of peacemakers in South Sudan’.  The day began with worship, where Rev Awadia looked at the book of Esther and encouraged us to be excellent leaders like Esther. We followed this up with an exercise on ‘Blessings and Forgiveness’ looking at Matthew 5:22-24, encouraging those in the room to offer a word of encouragement to a colleague or if they needed to be reconciled to take the opportunity to do this. 

We were then able to work with the delegates as they outlined what peace work they were doing, what the network of peacemakers in South Sudan already looked like, how much training they had, how the process worked when intervening in a conflict, and the relative value of working in pairs. This information was documented and will help the PCOSS develop a strategy for their peace work going forward. After lunch we were able to demonstrate a role play with two of the assessed mediators mediating the role play. The role play was based on a real situation in South Sudan and caused a lot discussion among delegates.  We closed with a bible study focusing on the process of peace-building outlined by Jesus to the disciples in Matthew 18, based on reflections prepared by John Paul Lederach in his book ‘Reconcile.’

The next morning, accompanied by Rev John Yor the General Secretary and Rev Orozu Daky the Deputy General Secretary we visited Shaun Collins, the Health and Education Advisor at the British Embassy.  By chance Ruth had sat next to Shaun on the flight from Nairobi to Juba and had told him about the work we were doing. He was very interested in the work we were doing, and encouraged us and our local partners to keep in touch with him.

From there we visited the Women’s Department of the PCOSS where we heard about their work with street children and also how they were visiting six women on death row in the local prison.  They told us about the struggles the women face but the important role they had to play.  

We then attended chapel at the Nile Theological College, where the Director is Rev. Santino Odong, one of our assessed Practitioners. Ruth gave a moving sermon on the theme of Nicodemus’ meeting with Jesus, which was well received. Jennie offered words of encouragement and support to the congregation. We saw the NTC resources and infra-structure, including the library of the college in Juba which are very basic and then had lunch with the principal and some faculty members.  We spoke of the opportunity to address some of the tribal difficulties with the student body and the hope that NTC would be a place to bring different tribes together.  They hope to get the institution accredited and to do this all lecturers need to hold a masters or PhD.  One of their hopes is to find a lecturer in mediation and peace studies.  

Our visit was rich in experiences, hospitality, sharing of stories, and witnessing remarkable peace building and mediation skills. We are delighted that some of our South Sudanese colleagues plan to join us for the Gathering in Glasgow at the end of 2019.

Ruth Harvey is Director of Place for Hope
Jennie Chinembiri is the Africa and Caribbean Secretary for the World Mission Council of the Church of Scotland, and a Place for Hope Practitioner

“Our visit was rich in experiences, hospitality, sharing of stories, and witnessing remarkable peace building and mediation skills. ” — Jennie Chinembiri

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