By: Samira Y. Salifu
As a child, Anna Lewe would see United Nations vehicles pass by in her village of Mardi located in the Western Equatoria State of South Sudan. She recalls marveling at the sight of selfless men and women of the UN, staff of the organization, who would travel from far and near to her community to care for those who had been adversely affected by conflicts. She decided then that she was going to be part of those saving lives. These days she braves both adversity and danger doing just that, working as a Child Protection Officer with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
“My proudest moment so far has been the opportunity to facilitate a workshop in Nimule town in Eastern Equatoria State for a section of the presidential guard, also known as the “Tiger Division”.
The workshop focused on the six grave violations against children in armed conflict, namely, killing and maiming of children, recruitment and use of children by armed forces and armed groups, sexual violence against children, attacks against schools or hospitals, abduction of children, and denial of humanitarian access for children.
Even though it was the first of its kind in the State, it was very successful and resulted in the forces vacating a nearby school they had been occupying. One of their senior officers even called me to give me the good news, and informed that their team needed more of the learning sessions.
My passion to contribute to the work we do keeps growing because I think it is counterproductive for a young country like South Sudan to remain on the annual United Nations “list of shame” of violators. It can negatively impact the country’s armed forces, for instance, by preventing its personnel from participating in peacekeeping operations and technical workshops in other countries.
This is why I think it is crucial to provide stakeholders with the needed training so that they can understand the implications of the violations and implement the recommendations.
Our work is yielding many positive results as South Sudan is now in the annex B of the list, which means it is no longer amongst the top violators. The country is on its way to getting removed from that list.
Despite the gains of the Child Protection team, however, I have observed that communities cannot tell the difference between what we do and the work of the UN humanitarian agencies. So, when they see us they expect us to meet their basic needs, such as food, clothing and shelter.
But our mandate is very specific and focuses on ending the six grave violations.
What is more, because we cannot access every soldier across the country ourselves, we train high-ranking officers who we rely on to train other officers. Yet, some of these senior officers cannot access the rural areas where their junior officers are located due to impassable roads and a lack of access to transportation.
These challenges create significant delays in the implementation of our activities.
Despite all the odds, I hope South Sudan continues to work towards the achievement of durable peace. We only need to realize that peace begins with loving ourselves and loving our country, because peace does not come from abroad, it begins from home and with how we treat each other.”
For 75 years, UN peacekeepers have worked alongside international partners, community leaders and Member States to save and change lives in the world’s most fragile political and security situations. These are ordinary people striving to achieve extraordinary outcomes in often difficult and dangerous situations. They are People for Peace, and these are their stories.