Malakal – The conflict in South Sudan which began in 2013 has affected hundreds of thousands of people. Walking through the towns of the world’s youngest nation, you will find evidence of the conflict everywhere - burnt vehicles, destroyed rooftops of schools and houses that were once occupied by people.
Malakal, which is the second largest city in South Sudan after the capital Juba, is just one of the towns that has seen the mass destruction of property, loss of lives and displacement of people. During the fighting, many people decided to seek refuge in the United Nations Protection of Civilians (PoC) site. Twenty-four years old, Ngor Oywac, and his five siblings were among the thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs).
“The conflict has caused a lot of devastation in the communities, not only physical and social but also psychological. IOM is working to see that communities in the PoC sites are healing and able to resolve their problems, have enhanced decision-making and problem-solving capacities. We aim at strengthening the social fabric and improve people’s psychosocial wellbeing at individual, family and community level”, says Augustine Lambert, IOM South Sudan’s MHPSS Officer based in Malakal, Upper Nile.
Ngor and his four brothers and one sister started living in the PoC in 2017 when the fighting reached their home village, Wau-Shilluk that is few miles north of Malakal, just across the Nile.
The same year, Ngor learnt about the International Organization for Migration’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (IOM MHPSS) services and decided to join a support group for adolescents – a group of young people coming together to discuss issues affecting them in their community. Later, Ngor started leading the discussions with the youth supported by MHPSS experts. He then became a psychosocial mobile team member and worked as an arts and craft animator, instructing others on creative activities like knitting table clothes out of wool and providing them with new skills thereby strengthening their resilience.
“When we arrived at the PoC site, we stayed with our neighbors who had come earlier than us for some time before we made our own shelter with support from the humanitarians working here. It was not long before I learnt that IOM was calling people for a training that would make them become animators of MHPSS services to young people. I decided to register because I knew this was going to help me as well as my fellow IDPs”, says Ngor.
In 2020, IOM MHPSS team introduced the production of care kits, including items such as clothes for different age groups, bags, and personal hygiene items (Care Kits) to be distributed to the most vulnerable people within the PoC community. For this, community members were mobilized to participate in the training and production of these items. Ngor being the lead animator joined the training since he had a lot of enthusiasm for learning new vocational skills.
“We wanted to reach out to people with special needs, for example persons with disabilities and survivors of gender-based violence with the care kits. To decide on the content of the care kits package, we used community participatory needs assessment, so that people could decide what to include because people in different areas have different needs. We also knew that engaging the local community in the production of these items would both help them recover as well as encourage them to be more self-reliant”, says Mr. Lambert.
Ngor is one of the six internally displaced persons trained to become animators of handcraft works like tailoring, bead works, and reusable face-mask production which was introduced in 2020 as a response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The knowledge I acquired here has really helped me a lot in serving my community. This programme is not only helping me but also those that need the items I produce, the impact of this programme on my community is really great”, says Ngor speaking about what motivates him to continue taking part in MHPSS activities since 2017 when he started living in the PoC site.
Ngor inspired by IOM’s MHPSS programme wishes to go back to school and study psychology to continue supporting his community.
The IOM MHPSS programme is community driven, engaging and training IDPs on psychosocial support provision and enabling them to identify and develop activities that would best meet their own community’s needs, and which are culturally acceptable. With this support, IDPs find ways to deal with their past experiences, become self-reliant and empowered.
In Malakal, Bentiu and Wau, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) supports the production of care kits that will be distributed to particularly vulnerable persons in the IDP sites or host communities and to recently displaced individuals.
This article was written by Nabie Loyce, IOM South Sudan Media and Communications Assistant