Mentoring the Young is an Investment in the Future of South Sudan

I look back to certain choices I made earlier in life and wish I had a mentor

I have always wondered how you can refer to someone as a “future leader” when you are not investing in them today? This South Sudan is not the promised land the youth of today were expecting. The Southern Sudanese youth who fought the liberation war are now parents and grandparents to a generation that is still marrying and raising their children in war. Youth are expected to not be too involved today because “they are tomorrow’s leaders”.

That is not only an excuse to avoid constructively engaging youth but an opportunity to equally not invest in them. This day, as a young person who was born and raised during the Sudan Civil war, I feel betrayed by my current leaders and for that, like many South Sudanese youth today, I am extremely bitter. Bitter because what kept us hopeful as children during the Liberation struggle was the thought and hope that someday we’ll have a country of our own.

They gave us a country but we’ll not sit and watch them destroy it for our children and grandchildren.

The thing about conflict is, life becomes a matter of survival, not living. For many of us who became refugees in foreign countries, we know life can be differently better because we have seen it in those countries. Our parents and grandparents spent their youthful days fighting to “liberate us”. That same agency and need to deliver a better ‘Sudan’ to their children is the same exact way today’s youth feel the generational responsibility. They gave us a country but we’ll not sit and watch them destroy it for our children and grandchildren.

Many of South Sudan’s current and retired leaders are moving libraries with a breadth of knowledge, skills, and experiences that today’s youth have limited access to in a widening inter-generational gap. What young South Sudanese leaders need today is to simply feel heard and nurtured. While inter-generational gap is an issue recognized globally, there hasn’t been any tangible efforts in addressing it so far.

The sense I get from many South Sudanese youth is the feeling of no one is listening, instead, they feel betrayed and excluded, leading to confrontations and unsuccessfully engagements. All the parties (the youth and the older generation) have been communicating at cross purpose, and reactionary response to the youth demands for inclusion in all levels of decision-making processes has been to simply silence the discussion. As a result, quotas are introduced to ensure “youth representation” and “special positions” created for youth with very minimal mentorship or leadership guidance whatsoever.

There is value in being mentored by someone who has your lived experiences, knows your roots, and your aspirations. Someone who shares the same vision for your country.

As a Peace and women’s rights activist, I’ve had access to spaces that have enabled me to interact and be mentored by some of the world’s most influential leaders including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, engaged in peer to peer mentorship with youth and women’s leaders globally as well as attend multiple pieces of trainings on leadership skills. However, there is value in being mentored by someone who has your lived experiences, knows your roots, and your aspirations. Someone who shares the same vision for your country. This is exactly how conversations with South Sudanese, the likes of Dr. Julia Aker Duany, the Retired Bishop Paride Taban among other South Sudanese Leaders make me feel.

If there is one thing I will never let my busy schedule take away is; my time dedicated to mentoring the younger people in my life especially girls wether doing it in person or virtually in whatever capacity. I know what it’s like to need someone who can simply listen to you and give you some guidance where need be. I look back to certain choices I made earlier in life and wish I had a mentor. I look back and wonder what kind of a leader I would be today had I had mentorship opportunities earlier in life. The South Sudan we’ll have a few decades from now will depend on the kind of children we raise and mentor today.

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I Refuse to be a Prisoner of Fear

If I die for speaking out for myself or others, I will know I died a free soul. I refuse to be a prisoner of fear, I refuse to live in my mind.

Growing up, I admired Southern Sudanese people so much for all the passion and courage they had standing up for their rights during the liberation struggle. My parents just like millions of other South Sudanese fought and spent their entirety youth miserable so I can be free, have an identity and simply belong. Southern Sudanese went through hell and back to get this country (South Sudan).

The “paradise” South Sudanese dreamt of for years. I imagined a “New Sudan” where every child had access to quality education, decent and affordable health care for all, a country governed by rule of law with the utmost respect for women’s rights, where one freely traveled and lived in whichever part of the country they wished to. Knowing how much the older generation sacrificed for this vision (in whatever formed it looked like for them) convinced the younger generations that the only way they can ever pay them back the generations that fought for our “freedom” is by utilizing every opportunity and become everything they dreamt of but could only wish for the next generation.

Today in the country I was promised freedom and prosperity, I continue to see people I know get killed or if they choose to spare your life, you get harassed or jailed for speaking your truth. Aware of the fact that the system doesn’t care about the truth, everyone who cares about me is terrified of the fact that I could be next. I have lost count of family meetings I have been to where I was the agenda. I totally and completely understand where they are coming from because what they feel is not just fear, it is an actual danger.

However, I didn’t choose activism, activism chose me, I am a product of activism. Both my parents joined the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) when they were equally young. My mother is a member of “katiba Banat” the only female battalion during the liberation struggle and my father is still active in the military to date. The same way they felt about the then regime is exactly how I feel about this current regime under their leadership.

It’s often understood that people only get in trouble by or for doing something but we never calculate how much damage we do by simply choosing to do nothing or remain silent. We are living in a country where; citizens look to International and National Nongovernmental Oraganizations for service provision, fighting a senseless war that has ended lives and displaced millions of people both internally and externally while dishonoring Peace Agreements year in and out. A country where certain individuals are above the law, where the national cake ends up in houses of those entrusted to distribute it. A country where the presence of security persons who are supposed to protect us terrify us the most. How can South Sudanese youth afford to remain silent?

I care for my country people enough to constructively criticize public institutions because I know the potential and resources they have to serve South Sudanese better so I will continue to speak. If I die for speaking out for myself or others, I will know I died a free soul. I refuse to be a prisoner of fear, I refuse to live in my mind. Like every other youth in the world, South Sudanese youth have a role to play to contribute to sustainable peace and development that dismantle all forms of inequalities and discrimination in South Sudan and globally.