Healing the Wounds of Conflict: SAADO's Efforts to Creating Peaceful Coexistence

Jun 24, 2024

The conflict-ridden region of South Sudan's Malakal-Upper Nile State has witnessed unspeakable violence, displacement, and suffering. The need for peace and reconciliation is more pressing than ever. Exploring the root of these conflicts is the first step toward driving change, and what better avenue to start said exploration than heartfelt conversations? We often negate the significance of heartfelt conversations in promoting peace, yet it is a practical approach to change. Additionally, we cannot undermine the role of community engagement by attracting representatives from different spheres to chip in and build a resilient society together. SAADO brings together diverse voices and perspectives through a series of dialogue sessions, leading to a shared vision for peaceful coexistence that births a Peace Building Committee as we move towards creating a framework for sustainable peace.

 The impact of different conflicts scattered across South Sudan, whether past or present, leaves deep scars on its people, communities, and institutions. The outcome is massive human suffering, displacement, and economic devastation. Amidst this chaos, it is essential to acknowledge the hurt and pain inflicted on individuals and communities. The "hurt to heart" concept emphasizes recognizing and addressing these wounds to facilitate healing and reconciliation.

The Significance of Heartfelt Conversations

Hearty conversations involve authentic listening, empathy, and understanding, creating a space where individuals share their stories, fears, and hopes. This approach is particularly crucial in conflict-ridden areas like South Sudan's Malakal-Upper Nile State, where communities have been torn apart by recurring violence and mistrust. By engaging in heartfelt conversations, we can:

      i.         Build trust: Trust is fundamental to any peace process. Heartfelt conversations help establish trust among individuals and communities, paving the way for meaningful dialogue.

     ii.         Address pain: Acknowledging the hurt and pain inflicted on individuals and communities is essential for healing. These spaces provide a platform for this acknowledgment, allowing individuals to process their emotions and begin the healing process.

   iii.         Foster empathy: Empathy is a vital element in conflict resolution. We can better understand others' perspectives by engaging in heartfelt conversations, reducing conflicts, and increasing cooperation.

 The Power of Community Engagement

We are cognizant of the need for community engagement in the journey towards lasting peace, hence their involvement, in different capacities, in these dialogues. In Malakal-Upper Nile State, community engagement has been instrumental in promoting peaceful coexistence, where we gather members from youths through adolescent clubs, community leaders, religious leaders, and government officials, among others, to participate in the dialogues. Our dialogue sessions brought together community leaders, institutions, and stakeholders across 13 counties, fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose. Through these dialogues, some key recommendations are realized.

Recommendation 1: Continue prioritizing dialogues to build trust and foster empathy among individuals and communities.

Implement a regular schedule for community dialogue sessions, where individuals can share their stories, concerns, and fears in a safe and confidential setting.

·       Establish a network of trained facilitators to lead these conversations, ensuring all participants feel heard and respected.

·       Develop a toolkit for facilitating heartfelt conversations, including guidelines for creating a safe space, active listening, and open-mindedness.

·       Encourage community members to engage in peer-to-peer conversations, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility for building peace.

In Malakal County, we organized a series of community dialogue sessions where individuals from different ethnic groups came together to share their experiences and concerns. This led to a deeper understanding of each other's perspectives, increasing trust and cooperation.

 Recommendation 2: Scale up community engagement initiatives to involve more stakeholders and increase their sense of ownership over the peacebuilding process.

·       Establish a Peacebuilding Committee comprising representatives from diverse stakeholder groups, including community leaders, local government officials, and civil society organizations.

·       Organize community events, such as cultural festivals and sports competitions, that promote unity and social cohesion.

·       Develop a community-based project that addresses a specific need or issue, such as improving access to healthcare or education. This will empower community members to take ownership of their development and peacebuilding efforts.

·       Create a community radio program or social media platform that shares stories of peacebuilding successes and promotes peaceful coexistence.

We established a Peacebuilding Committee in Upper Nile State comprising representatives. The committee worked to develop a project that provided training for community mediators, who then facilitated peaceful resolutions to local conflicts.

 Recommendation 3: Provide training and capacity-building programs for community leaders and stakeholders to enhance conflict resolution skills.

  1. ·       Offer training sessions on conflict resolution techniques like mediation, negotiation, and problem-solving.

·       Provide capacity-building programs for community leaders on effective communication, emotional intelligence, and leadership skills.

·       Establish a mentorship program that pairs experienced and newer mediators, ensuring knowledge transfer and skill development.

·       Develop an online platform for sharing best conflict resolution and peacebuilding practices.

 Recommendation 4: Establish mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of peacebuilding initiatives to ensure accountability and adaptability.

·       Develop a monitoring and evaluation framework that tracks progress toward peacebuilding goals.

·       Establish a feedback mechanism that allows community members to provide input on the effectiveness of peacebuilding initiatives.

·       Conduct regular assessments of conflict levels in the region, identifying areas of improvement and adjusting peacebuilding strategies accordingly.

·       Create a data management system that tracks crime rates, violence incidents, and community engagement.

 Peacebuilding is a long and arduous journey. However, our experiences demonstrate that heartfelt conversations and community engagement can be powerful tools for promoting peaceful coexistence. Forming a Peace Building Committee is a critical step towards creating a framework for sustainable peace.