South Sudan Overwhelmed Me

Children playing in Juba

Children playing “Yamma” game in Juba, South Sudan
Sarah Jones/August 2018

South Sudan overwhelmed me. As a foreigner entering a new country for the first time. I find that when locals welcome me and invite me into their homes and hearts – it’s overwhelming. I know that leaving Juba was not a good-bye but a “see you again.” I’ve made friends and have added to my family through the relationship formed in Juba. I hope on my next visit to be able to travel outside of the capital to learn more about this diverse and beautiful country – where the vast majority of people I met just want peace.

People in Juba are well aware that peace in the country is fragile. But it’s all anyone wants – from young to old. I spent a lot of my time in Juba speaking with children. I believe it’s the best way to understand a country and the direction its heading – especially in South Sudan. 70% of the population is under 30 years old.

South Sudan gained its independence from the north in 2011. So I spent a lot of time speaking with seven years olds. Most had a personal definition for peace ranging from “when everyone is happy” to “when there is no fighting.” Only one knew what justice was, and only a couple understood the concept when I explained it.  One of the most interesting personal definitions of “justice” came from a seven year old who told me it is when everyone who is hurt is taken care of and cared for. At first he said justice is when people who are hungry are fed. Then he went on to describe a time he hurt his leg and said justice was when his leg was bandaged up- and that everyone who hurts their leg should have them bandaged. I found it interesting that he made no mention of what should happen to perpetrators. Many of these children have seen dead bodies, or people killed. Some were orphaned by the conflict. And all the children I spoke to wanted peace, very few understood or knew what justice was. It made me wonder – how many cycles of violence does it take for someone to desire justice over peace or to want revenge. And is that when peace becomes harder to sustain?

Sarah Jones, South Sudan Reporting Fellow