Tuesday December 12, 2017

Praying for South Sudan a Call for Unity and Identity Amongst South Sudanese


UNICEF: I am an Acholi, a Dinka, a Nuer. I am South Sudanese, singer and writer, Mer Ayong, 29, sing to the crown during the inaugural TEDxJUBA in South Sudan where she was performing.

“We are a new nation, but we are not a new tribe. It’s our turn as young people to carry the flag but many young people don’t understand their roots.”
Mer Ayong, who had recently returned to her homeland after fleeing with her family during the civil conflict, is part of a small but diverse group of women using cultural ties to rebuild the fledgling nation. Together, these women are utilizing traditional and contemporary artistic pursuits, to forge their shared histories into creative expressions of their hopes for the country’s development.

Entitled New Ideas, New Generations, TEDxJUBA was hosted by UNICEF to mark the one year independence anniversary. Cultural heritage and innovation were themes woven throughout the talks and performances, which ranged from incredible personal journeys; to private sector entrepreneurs and leading members of arts.

The energy and belief that creativity can help to overcome some of the enormous challenges faced by the people of South Sudan was repeatedly reinforced throughout the event, echoing the optimism spilling out of communities celebrating the independence. Indeed, it was a thread that bound both the TEDxJUBA participants and many of the women I spoke to in Juba who are involved in a diverse range of activities.

The new nation is grappling with serious challenges, made even more difficult with the government led austerity measures. Starting from a very low base rate it has some of the worst child and maternal indicators in the world: a quarter of all children are underweight and there are only 11 midwives in the whole country.

Its population is also one of the youngest amongst all nations, with 50 per cent of its population under 18. The adult literacy rate stands at 27 per cent, and 70 per cent of children aged 6-17 have never set foot inside a classroom. Creative ways of approaching the challenges are vital to build community-led approaches in a country where people have been through years of war and exclusion.
The spirit of the women was incredible. Against the backdrop of years of neglect, creativity and self-belief were profoundly important to these women, values that colour everything here in NY and so why not in South Sudan. The women and their beliefs were a testament to the power of beauty and the arts to transcend hardship and brutality.


The Upper Nile Times

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