The history of Nuba Mountains being a conflict zone dates back to 1980’s when many people in the region started to join the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) and fighting against the central government in Khartoum. The region has witnessed war from 1991- 2002 but received less attention. The war broke out again between the government and SPLM-N (Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement- North) in June 2011 at the time of the succession of South Sudan. Since then the region is out of reach of humanitarian assistance and off the media radar. In 2012 human rights watch reported that 900000 persons were displaced by the conflict. Recently in January 2015; the UNHCR reported that 3000 persons have crossed to South Sudan in a month. Beside those figures of people escaping the conflict and videos of aerial bombardment and lynched bodies, it is rare to hear any stories from Nuba Mountains.
But those 900,000 individuals have their life stories that need to be told. They have faces need to be shown to their fellow citizens living in peace and to a world keep saying "never again" but turning a blind eye on many devastating conflicts like the ongoing and endless war in Sudan.
In this series "One of the 900000"; I am trying to reflect on the lives of young women and men living in displacement camps and rebel held areas.
**Names have been changed to ensure the anonymity and safety of the interviewees.
Amel is an activist, a university graduate in her mid-thirties. She lives in her home town; a small village in Umdorain County in Nuba Mountains which is controlled by SPLM-N. She works with a local organization on monitoring human rights violations and educating her community on the issue. She likes the beauty of her home town especially during rainy season; when the surroundings; including the mountains cover with green.
Amel testifies that; in spite of the beauty of the rainy season; the region is troubled by war and under development; especially SPLM-N controlled areas which is suffering from frequent areal strikes by government forces.
"Now people are living in caves and mountains with no access to humanitarian relief. There is a huge population movement to the neighboring countries. One of the five administrative units in Umdorain has all its schools closed because of the shelling while two other units closed down half of their schools. Furthermore; shelling has polluted the environment. The water sources have been heavily polluted by the unexploded ordnance. Many manual water pumps are not working now. People are relying on groundwater which recently turned brownish. It is causing them diseases; even I got sick several times from drinking it. Not to mention the shortage in health facilities and medicines" she says.
Amel’s life has not been easy. In the early 1990’s she was living with her parents and 8 siblings in Khartoum when the war broke out in South Kordofan. Their father’s salary were barely enough for them when they have to host new comers who fled their home to Khartoum, losing their livelihood and the joy of living in peace.
"My family struggled with providing our education fees and my academic performance was poor. It was a hard time for us"
Now after the eruption of war in June 2011; her family is being divided. While her mother is living in Umdorain; her father is in South Sudan. Some of her siblings moved to Khartoum and Northern cities, others seek refuge in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and one is living in Uganda.
"My parents have not been together in a while; they need to be together, with their children and look after them. However this is hard to be achieved now with the little income that I, my father and my mother make. My siblings are very young; they are teenagers and need guidance and direction. Two of my sisters are constantly get into troubles and they got impregnated. My youngest sister run to Khartoum alone seeking a good education or away to join my elder sister in the U.S. who's herself is struggling with maintaining daily living and we could not see her since 1999. I wish if I was there taking care of my sisters"
Since her graduation in 2010; Amel has been working in Nuba Mountains with international and national nonprofit organizations that works on development and human rights. She is passionate about defending human rights, standing by the side of victims and empowering them to claim their rights. This passion and commitment is enabling her to bear the daily challenges of being a single woman and an activist in war zone. She narrates:
"Although the social dynamics of the community is changing still many stereotypes persist. The gender roles are tightly defined. A woman is expected to do certain predestined jobs. I have been into some difficult situations not only when dealing with local communities, but even with my work mates. Some colleagues feel intimidated whenever I come up with new ideas or assume a leading role. I usually hear comments like "she is a woman; the male colleagues must be taking the lead". This just pisses me off; I am always supporting my colleagues. I am more skilled than them and I am used to work under pressure but they cannot tolerate those facts"
Amel envisions the ideal future of women in Sudan. She hopes all women could be educated; even the elders who did not go to schools can join literacy classes to be able to read and write.
"Women should assume decision making roles and jobs. They should represent their sisters, be qualified for this representation and never oppress women. Women who survived the war have shown potentials of conducting both men and women predefined social roles"
Amel is optimistic when it comes to the future of Sudan and specifically Nuba Mountains region. She thinks the society is well organized and politically aware:
"Good times are waiting for us. Sudan will be a democratic country where there is no tribe or ethnicity be grieved and people will enjoy equal rights"
But when it comes to her personal future; uncertainty evolves:
"I am not sure, and all depends on the circumstances. Few years ago, I thought that I will be doing a lot of things like pursuing postgraduate studies. I thought I will enjoy family life and be with my parents and siblings but the opposite has happened. I am not happy but keeping optimism. I feel much stronger now; in spite of all the challenges of being a woman; living in a war zone has shaped my personality; I acquired flexibility. I believe everything happen in its meant time. Whenever I get ready I will go for my dreams and serve the community locally, nationally and internationally. I have developed a sense of global solidarity with people"
Amel sends a final word to the youth of Sudan:
"Do not lose hope, be optimistic, think and act. People have been victimized by continuous conflicts that started many years ago. We have to come up with a radical solution to prevent its re-occurrence. Nobody is powerless; we all have responsibilities and potential powers. We need to be committed to actions and we should succeed. No matter how long does it take, nothing is impossible"
And she addresses the International community:
"Interests might delay holding criminals accountable. However I still believe that ICC should get its work done otherwise I wonder what should be the benefits of its establishment"