Malakal’s first Cultural festival brings communities together

By Jale Richard

About 5 kilometers away from the makeshift shelters which have been their home since 2013, hundreds of people who had sought refuge in the PoC poured into Malakal Town to participate in a cultural festival day last Saturday.

The PoCrun by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), is currently home to 29,190.  It was created at the beginning of 2014 to temporarily protect thousands of civilians who had fled in to the UN base from violence in the Upper Nile region at the peak of the first South Sudan civil war.

The event was organized byUpper Nile Youth Development Association (UNYDA) and Central Upper Nile State’s Ministry of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports with funding from Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA).

The event at Malakal Stadium was the first cultural event organized by UNYDA to promote peace under the theme, Bledna Awella (South Sudan First or our Country First).

Different communities from Malakal PoC and those living in the town gathered at the stadium to participate and engage in the cultural event meant to promote peace and reconciliation amongst communities fragmented by the five-year conflict.

Peter Aban Amon, the Minister of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports of Central Upper Nile State said the event was successful because people needed to interact in the prevailing peace.

“The event was big and colorful for the more than two communities in the PoC and the communities in Malakal town plus other communities who are in Malakal but they are not from Malakal town,” Aban said.

The minister acknowledged that there was division along tribal lines due to the conflict, but said it was important to engage the different communities to reconcile and promote peace through activities such as the cultural festival.

“This war has actually divided people on so many lines but we say we cannot continue with the division. Let us try our own as the state government to engage the youth to come back and empower them to create peace. The youth are the people used for the war and they are the victims with women,” Aban explained.

“This was very important for me that UNYDA is a local NGO based in Upper Nile states, it was good for me to have them, they are not from far away, they are from within and they know what the community wants,” he added.

He said the cultural festival day took place at the right time because the youth should be engaged in peace building activities.

“The youth need also engagement. They must be engaged to put together ideas so that they don’t waste time running around the market playing cards,” Aban said.

The minister appealed to UNYDA to help the ministry if they have chance to help. He said the ministry is looking for internet, power and computers to help the journalists in the ministry.

With the Revitalized Peace Agreement, the conflict situation is changing. Minister Aban said within the communities, they now participate in cultural events together and play in sporting events together.

“These are the things we are using to break the ice so that people can relate easily and forget about the injustices of the war.“They can break this ice because when they come to participate together, they unite in the process,” the information minister added.

The minister said in Central Upper Nile State, they are winning in regards to reuniting the different communities.

“There is no any difficulty for people to come together. We are back together, we are working very hard to bring people together,” he added.

Charles Onak Judo, UNYDA’s Executive Director said through the cultural festival, he aimed at allowing citizens to unite, reconnect, sing, play, and dance together to appreciate their cultures as part of peace building.

“We believe that no culture is bad but instead there are unique cultures. So we as the citizens of this Country should enjoy the uniqueness of each and every culture,” Onak said.

He explained that the theme of the event Bledna Awella (South Sudan First or our Country First) focused on inculcating in the citizens five pillars such as inclusive progress (inclusive growth and social progress), denouncing any form of violence, transforming to better lives, living in unity in diversity, and inclusive and sustainable peace.

“There is need to work and  commit ourselves to empower individuals and families to participate in the opportunities brought by peace, Let’s all try to work on programs that focus on youth, entrepreneurship, small business, financial inclusion and resilience, and environmental sustainability,” Onak urged.

“We need to embrace the peace agreement and work for lasting peace in South Sudan. Let all be encouraged including our leaders to end the violence, work for peace and reconcile as one people of one nation,” he added.

For John Mabek Ayuel, a youth living at Malakal town, the government and the United Nations should create conducive environment for displaced persons to return to their homes.

He said those living in the PoC should return to the town “because the town is free than in the PoC.”

“Life in the town is free because the youth are engaged in some activities like fishing, business unlike those in the PoC where it is crowded and no opportunities for such activities,”Mabek said.

“I’m very excited to attend this cultural festival in Malakal. I thank UNYDA for organizing this first cultural event in Malakal,” he said.

He encouraged UNYDA to continue with the peace building activities in order to build the trust between youth in the PoC and those in the town.

“To come together is not easy. It needs efforts from both the youth and NGOs because organizations can work but without interest from the youth, they cannot achieve results. It is important for the youth to commit themselves to the peace agreement that was signed last year to leave the past and start a new chapter,” Mabek said.

He added that peace and reconciliation is going on well because relatives of communities in the visit the town and those in the town also visit the PoC.

“It is the beginning of peace and reconciliation in the state. The youth are engaged in the activities and they are now uniting,” he said.

Mabek urged the government not to delay the time for implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement because “peace will allow us develop our state and our country.

He said the government should ensure those of Dr. Riek Machar, Gen. Olony and others come within the stipulated time in order to start implementing the peace agreement.

Mabekurged the youth to unite as sons and daughters of the greater Upper Nileregion and forgive each other for the lost they inflicted on each other.

The Chairperson of POC Women Committee, Ms Rachael Mayik Ayang said UNYDA’s intervention in Malakal POC helped the community overcome many challenges they encountered due to the conflict.

“This coming together to me I think helps in peaceful co-existence. We become friends and learn from others how to behalf not like when everyone is isolated in their homes,”Ms Rachael added.

Many displaced families are feeling more confident about moving home as security improves, although there is still sporadic violence in the south of the country. The number of people in UN protection sites has dropped from 205,000 to 193,000 in just a few months. The decision to leave is voluntary, though, and must be made only when people have the trust and confidence to go home.

UNYDA is a local network of young women and men from counties of conflict, post conflict and vulnerable counties of greater Upper Nile.

UNYDA’s leadership is made up of young local professionals (lecturers at Upper Nile University, primary and secondary school teachers, agronomists, accountants, lawyers, etc) from the three main ethnic groups (Collo, Dinka and Nuer) in Upper Nile.

It was formed in 2003 and work in former Upper Nile state for over 16 years. UNYDA operate in Greater Upper Nile and current offices include Malakal Town office, UNMISS Site office, Melut office, Renk office of Northern Upper Nile State and Juba main office.

UNYDA’s  mission is to enable young women and men play a more active role in Peace and Development

UNYDA team joined the dance

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