For several years, we have worked alongside our friend and community partner, Fr. Mark Kumbonyaki and the Inter-Church Committee of South Sudan, to support South Sudanese families targeted with violence by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). In partnership with Fr. Mark, we have helped to equip thousands in South Sudan and across central Africa with tools to peacefully address conflict and heal from trauma.
Today, many of the South Sudanese communities that Fr. Mark and the Inter-Church Committee support no longer face the threat of LRA violence. However, as these communities continue to heal from the scars of trauma, they are also facing more recent threats to their safety. Civil war broke out in South Sudan in late 2013, and began escalating in the areas where Fr. Mark and the Inter-Church Committee operate in 2015. As a result, communities already struggling to recover from past trauma from LRA violence are again facing the daily threat of politically and ethnically-motivated violence amongst their fellow citizens.
Thanks to rapidly-deployed “emergency funds” from some of our international partners, Fr. Mark and the Inter-Church Committee were recently able to lead a series of reconciliation and peace-building workshops with members of vulnerable communities in South Sudan. These workshops focused on bringing communities together to develop strategies for resolving conflict, healing from trauma, and preventing violence. Their successes have also reinforced the importance of flexible, short-term funding mechanisms that allow donors to be more responsive to needs identified by community leaders such as Fr. Mark.
Here are just a few ways that workshops like these make a difference:
These workshops help unify communities by bringing people from different backgrounds together.
Simply creating an opportunity for communities to come together and work toward the common goal of safety and healing can go a long way in strengthening communities. These workshops included people from all different backgrounds – men, women, religious leaders, government officials and others – ensuring that the whole community was represented and had the opportunity to be heard and to listen to one another.
In one community, the workshops brought community leaders together with members of the South Sudanese military. Prior to the workshop, mistrust had created a deep divide between the two groups causing tension in the community. However, after having the opportunity to come together and work with one another, the tension began to lift and many began to see local soldiers as part of the community. The community even came together to support a local soldier when his son was killed in an accident. On the day of the boy’s funeral, a large group of local people came to mourn and to help the father lay him to rest – something that never would have happened before the workshop.
These workshops help individuals understand the root causes of conflict and how to resolve it peacefully which helps reduce internal conflict and prevent violence.
Beyond the immediate effects of violence, the fear, uncertainty, and unresolved trauma that accompany it can often fuel conflict between groups in the community. However, when violence-affected communities are equipped with tools for understanding and resolving conflict, they’re able to peacefully address challenges as they arise. This, in turn, strengthens the whole community, allowing them to more effectively respond when some external threat comes along.
After one workshop, a participant shared how the trainings had inspired him to resolve personal conflicts saying:
“I have been touched by this workshop on peace building, especially when hearing about forgiveness and reconciliation. For a very long time, I stopped talking to my neighbors because of a misunderstanding between us. I had also stopped giving market money to my wife due to friction between us. But after hearing about forgiveness and reconciliation, I have decided now that I will visit my neighbor tomorrow so that we can talk and forgive one another. And this evening I will ask for forgiveness from my wife and begin giving her money for the market again. This is because this workshop has touched me very much.”
These workshops help communities develop systems for resolving conflict and preventing violence.
The ultimate goal of workshops like these ones is to provide communities with all of the tools and information they need to develop real and lasting solutions that work for them. The reality is that there will always be disagreements, misunderstandings, and conflicts in every community, but if they’re able to set up systems that allow them to prevent that conflict from harming the community, then communities can thrive.
One of the communities where the workshop took place was struggling to find the right system for resolving conflicts. In this community, minor grievances and misunderstandings were being brought directly to local security forces, which often caused more problems. Because the local military leaders and community leaders were able to come together through this workshop, they were able to develop a system which allowed local traditional leaders to begin addressing minor conflicts and misunderstandings. This new system has already helped reduce tension and conflict within the community.