Bentiu women resort to business for peace
Nyakong Diu in her kitchen (Photo: Jale Richard)
By Jale Richard
Nyakong Diu, a 37 year-old wakes up every morning to prepare food for her customers in one of the markets of Bentiu PoC.
The mother of seven doubles up as the leader of a group of nine women who sell food to fend for their families through a local restaurant business.
Her structure-a make-shift shelter is big enough to host 40 plastic chairs and is divided in to two: the exterior area serves as the kitchen while the interior is the dining area.
Every day, the group prepares different foods including beans, rice, meat, and others local foods that have the tastes of locals in the market.
“I started tea business in Khartoum and when I came to Bentiu, I continued with my business but I lost everything in the past conflicts,” Nyakong recalls.
“Before Action for Conflict Resolution (ACR) started supporting me, I was just at home doing nothing but when it gifted me with some items to start this business. Some of the items you see here were donated by ACR and I bought the rest from the profits I made,” she reveals.
ACR is a local nongovernmental organization operating in the greater Unity State areas. It was formed in 2014 to mitigate local conflicts amongst communities who were turned against each other during the civil war.
The communities all over the defunct Unity State were displaced into what would be South Sudan’s largest Protection of Civilians Camp (PoC) for displaced persons run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
With support from Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), ACR is supporting local women groups to engage in Income Generating Activities (IGA’s) to support their families, as well as use their businesses to relate with people from other sub-clans and counties to mitigate local conflicts caused by cattle theft and revenge killings in the greater Unity State area.
Nyakong’s business is surrounded by many other similar ones that serve the population in the PoC market. Like Nyakong, some of the women operating such businesses started their business with the help of Action for Conflict Resolution (ACR)-a local organization as part of their Income Generating Activities.
The primary idea is to empower women and enable them connect with people from different clans and counties through their income generating activities.
Nyakong received her first support from ACR in 2017. She was given 10 plastic chairs, 10 saucepans, a washing dish, buckets that she used to start her restaurant business.
“The first assistance enabled me to start this restaurant business. Without the support, I could not have started the business because I did not have the initial capital,” Nyakong says.
“Now my business is progressing well. I have seen positive results out of what I do,” she adds. She says with her earnings, she is able to pay her children’s school fees as well as help other needy relatives.
Business for peace
Nyakong says the food business helped her know many people she would not have known.
“My relationship with people from different clans and tribes is very essential. When they come, I welcome them as customers but not people of different clans. I do not discriminate and segregate them because they are from other clans,” she says.
“They also come to me because they know I serve them well. So our relationship is very strong with my customers,” she adds.
She says that business can bring peace because the people who come to buy are from different counties and areas.
“My customers are not my relatives. As I welcome them we create a special relationship that binds us together,” she adds.
Ms. Nyakong says she does not suffer from discrimination from the customers because they come to her knowing she offers the best service.
Every day, her business earns her about 50,000 South Sudanese Pounds. They divide it amongst the 7 group members after every two days.
The IGA project’s primary objective is to empower women to promote peace through their businesses, says NPA Project Coordinator, Michael Gorjin.
He says NPA supports its partners to help youth unlearn violence and promote peace in their communities.
“When the conflict started in 2013, many communities and clans were pitied against each other for either supporting the conflict or not supporting it. It created division among clans and counties,” he says
The polarized communities now live in the country’s biggest PoC, home to about…people according to the latest UNMISS report.
Hope for the R-ARCSS
With the Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, Nyakong now hopes for situations outside the PoC to improve so that they can return to their homes.
“We welcome the Revitalized Peace Agreement and I urge our leaders to make sure this agreement brings back the real peace that we have been waiting for,” she says.
The 38-year-old appreciated the support given to them by ACR which she says uplifted them. She emphasized that without ACR, “our businesses would not have grown.”
“The business also reduced the trauma in our minds because we are not idle like many people in the PoC,” she adds.
Nyayang Gatkoi Yar, a 28 year old mother of two sells tea in the market. She started her business in the PoC in 2015 but got support from ACR.
She received 5 plastic chairs, 3 tables, one kettle, 5 water jugs, 3 water cups, 12 tea cups, and 2 dishes. But her starting items were destroyed in a 2017 market fire. She got a second assistance from ACR to restart her business.
Nyayang Gatkoi Yar at her tea business place
Her business has now stabilized since she got the second assistance from ACR.
“Previously we used to rent chairs but now we own the chairs and this has helped us save some money,” she says. “The money I get from tea selling is what I use to support my family and paying for my children’s school fees,” Nyayang says.
Nyayang notes that through the IGA group, they have established a unique relationship with people from other sub-clans.
“Previously we did not have good relationship but since we are bonded together by ACR in these groups, our relationship is good. You can see these people sitting inside here are from different counties but not from my own county,” she says.
“Doing business is very important because it connects people from different counties. Business can bring good relationship and peaceful coexistence between different communities and clans because you may not know some people but through business you will know who they are,” she emphasizes.
Nyayang says she has a big hope that South Sudanese will resume their normal lives if the Revitalized Peace Agreement is implemented.
“We suffered a lot for five years. We are tired of war. My expectation is to have peace in South Sudan so that people can return back to their homes and start rebuilding their lives,” she hopes.
James Makur Latjor, ACR Peace Project Officer said they selected the women randomly in order to ensure each of them was from a different location.
“The reason is to unite them and also to run their business together in order to promote peaceful connection in the PoC. They will also make profits that would enable them forget their trauma from the war,” he said.
Makur says with the support, the women groups have improved their businesses and they have created strong relationships with each other from different counties.
“They built a strong relationship between them, and also their small scale businesses improved,” he says.
Nyakong Diu with her colleagues. (Photo: Jale Richard)