Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Shaken out of one's comfort zone

Angela ElliottWill and Angela Elliott have just returned from participating in the IofC action in South Sudan. They live in Northern Virginia where Will is an international development manager and serves on the board of IofC USA. Angela, a retired nurse, currently volunteers as a long-term care ombudsman in Fairfax County. Angela writes of their visit:

As we surfaced from sleep to the shrilling of our alarm clock, we heard crows chattering and robins calling. We were back home in Northern Virginia, seemingly a world away from Juba, South Sudan, from which we have just returned. In Juba, we woke to the steady hum of a generator, the slow sweeping of a brush cleaning the patio of our small hotel and the chatter of Al Jazeera TV from that same patio. We had been invited to take part in an April conference in Juba that was to start a five-year journey of healing and reconciliation in South Sudan. While we were en route in Nairobi, Kenya, a Presidential decree was issued from Juba suspending all reconciliation efforts. However, the next day it became clear that not all activities were, in fact, suspended so we were able to continue on to Juba for eight fascinating days.

Some of our days were spent at a large training center a few yards from the Nile River, where 190 South Sudanese from every tribe and State were participating in a four week 'Peace Mobilizers' training. At the start of each day prayers, music, and dancing prepared the way for speakers, videos, discussion groups, and reflections on the qualities required of a peacemaker. Participants were happy to talk with us over meals, to share their opinions about how South Sudan could heal its past and to express their views on South Sudan’s future.

South Sudan (Photo: Mike Brown)As a retired nurse, I was asked to help look after some of the trainees who were sick, working with a local police surgeon at the training facility and making the acquaintance of some of Juba’s medical facilities. Friends in the US and UK had given Will the names of contacts in Juba and we were able to connect with several of these contacts and link them with the Initiatives of Change (IofC) team in Juba.

While we were in Juba, IofC South Sudan celebrated the official opening of its center. Among several guests were the Vice President as well as General Joseph Lagu, a greatly revered elder statesman of South Sudan. Two trainees from the training course spoke movingly and passionately -- one in English, one in Arabic -- asking the politicians present to live up to the expectations of their people, so that the many deaths incurred by almost every family in South Sudan over decades of civil war would not be in vain. “If you want to see what real love looks like, come to the training center.” said the young Arabic-speaking woman. A delicious lunch had been prepared by Madame Angelina Teny, wife of South Sudan’s Vice President, for the seventy plus attendees.

Minister Lowilla with training graduates (Photo: Mike Brown)Two South Africans arrived in Juba to share their story of reconciliation and healing – a story of deep relevance to South Sudanese. Here was living proof that it is possible for forgiveness to be extended between the victim and the perpetrator of violence and for a true friendship to be forged.

We left Juba after eight intense days changed by the experience. For me, it was a reminder that it is good to be shaken out of one’s comfort zone and to be in a situation of “not knowing” much of the time, simply being available for whatever arises. For Will, it was a privilege to witness the service of many people and organizations in this journey of healing; to listen to the life stories of those who have suffered deeply; and to hear the decisions of trainees to hold each other accountable to the work of reconciliation that collectively awaits them back in their states.

Read further stories on the IofC global website

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.