How Rubber Tires are Helping Communities in South Sudan
Sitting on a small stool with his tools laid out in front of him, Anthony waits for his class to arrive. In preparation for today’s lesson, he fashions a flip-flop out of rubber, which he will use as an example.
“I started making shoes in 1984,” says Anthony.
He explains that at that time he had been working as a driver in Rumbek, Lakes — where he is originally from. He came across people using the rubber from old vehicle tires to make shoes. Anthony liked the idea and, so, started to teach himself how to cut rubber and transform it into a shoe.
In 1986, two years after his journey as a shoemaker began, Anthony embarked on another. He moved to Wau where he still lives today. However, since 2016, he has not been able to stay at his home — it isn’t safe.
Anthony is one of more than 18,000 people currently living in a displacement site on the grounds of a cathedral in Wau where a non-governmental organization (NGO), Action for Development (AFOD), manages the site. He and his family, like everyone else living in makeshift shelters in the site, were forced to flee their home due to the ongoing civil war.
The youngest country in the world; South Sudan’s conflict began in 2013, only a few years after gaining independence from Sudan. A subsequent escalation in armed clashes in late June 2016 led to the additional displacement of over 40,000 people in Wau by September of the same year. Anthony says that it is still too dangerous for him to go home and, even if it was safe enough, he explains that there is nothing left for him anymore.
Experiencing conflict and displacement can take a massive toll on a person’s wellbeing and mental health leading to distress and anxiety. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) runs mental a health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) programme offering counselling, psychological first aid, referrals, home visits and support group services to displaced and conflict-affected populations throughout South Sudan. IOM also provides support to the Wau State Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare by building the capacity and expanding the reach of their social workers.
Anthony is a key member of IOM’s MHPSS team in Wau.
Each week, he passes his innovative shoe-making skills onto young people and adults — mostly men –interested in learning this new skill and translating it into a productive output. Most of his students take part in the different support groups IOM offers to vulnerable people living in the cathedral site. But learning this craft is not limited to support group members, they also encourage their family members and neighbours to gain this skill. This gives their families and communities a means of supporting themselves and becoming independent.
“People come here to buy the shoes,” says Anthony, as he gestures to his surroundings. “I am able to make a living because of this project,” he adds and then explains that he even uses some of his profits to buy peanuts for the children, who watch him work and unofficially observe his class.
When discussing his students, Anthony proudly shares that while they are really interested and grateful to be learning this skill many find it difficult, as the tools can be dangerous. He knows that his job as a teacher is to ensure they use them correctly and in a safe manner.
“Through transferring the knowledge, he learned over thirty years ago, Anthony is helping vulnerable people make a living for themselves,” says Elaine Duaman, IOM MHPSS Specialist in Wau.
“He assists them to build up their self-esteem, develop their creativity and become resourceful; all of which contribute positively to their wellbeing. This activity is open to all people, who have interest in learning something new. The class environment encourages participants to form healthy relationships within the group and learn positive behaviours and attitudes from their peers. It can also help protect young people from negative influences by giving them a means of supporting themselves or filling their time. And this project is respectful to the environment; it encourages the recycling or reuse of old and used vehicle tires to transform them into something that is once again functional,” added Duaman.
In 2017, IOM’s MHPSS team served an average of 16,370 persons each month in Wau with community-based social, creative and recreational activities, such as community theatre, traditional songs and dances, sports, arts and crafts, interfaith and educational activities. Informal English learning sessions and basic mathematics lessons were also oﬀered in the Wau protection of civilian (PoC) site, as well as the cathedral collective centre where Anthony lives, to improve linguistic and numeracy skills.
IOM’s MHPSS programming in South Sudan is funded by the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and the Government of Japan.
Ever the perfectionist, Anthony only has one question
“Now that you have seen my work, is it good?”