Fifty-five-year-old Juliata Edward, a mother of eight, can still remember her journey on the night of 25 June 2016 to the United Nations Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Wau, Western Bahr el Ghazal.
Originally from Yambio in the southwestern part of South Sudan, Juliata first came to Wau in her late 20s, where she got married and had her children who are now all grown.
She had a good and peaceful life in Wau until June 2016 when fighting broke out.
“We heard gunshots and did not know what was happening. We thought they were chasing thieves, as was often the case. But this time it was different; it continued longer than usual,” said Juliata.
“The shooting continued. And it continued. And it continued. They were killing people,” she said with a pause.
During the fighting, many people ran to the UN Protection of Civilians site in Wau to seek refuge, which is now home to over 13,200 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from across the country.
“The fighting kept drawing closer and closer to our neighbourhood. Hai Kosti, a place I had called home for over two decades, suddenly became the worst neighbourhood to live in,” said Juliata. “The fighting was intense, and we could not stay at our homes anymore.”
Although it was night-time, Juliata and a group of neighbours decided to leave.
“We started following the crowd. We did not know where we were going but leaving was better than staying,” she said.
Despite moving with difficulty following a stroke she suffered due to hypertension, Juliata and her children reached the UN Protection of Civilians site.
Upon arrival, they were received by the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) team who, together with other partners, work on providing safe and dignified living conditions for IDPs seeking protection in the PoC site. Through Camp Management services and site planning, Juliata was ensured access to shelter, water, sanitation and distributions of food and non-food items.
“Staying in the PoC site has given me some relief because I know I am safe here,” said Juliata, who lives with four of her children and a grandchild.
In 2019, Juliata was elected the leader of Block 3 in the PoC site in Wau where she lives. Since then, she has taken on a bigger role and is now the Chairperson of the Community Leadership Committee (CLC), a role she feels honoured to have.
“I was elected because I was always campaigning for the wellbeing of people living in the protection site. I was reporting complaints and giving feedback. I acted as a bridge between the residents and the humanitarians working in the protection site,” she said.
Juliata said that helping solve problems and seeing feuding people live in peace after her mediation is very “rewarding.”
The CLC is made up of twelve members, which include representatives of leadership structures of women, youth, block leaders and persons with disabilities.
“Seeing the highest level of community leadership electing a woman living with a disability as its chairperson is inspiring and speaks volumes about inclusion and meaningful participation” said Priscila Scalco, IOM South Sudan CCCM Programme Manager. “We commend the residents of the protection site for electing Juliata to be their representative,” she said.
Every six months, IOM’s Camp Coordination and Camp Management supports the community to organize elections for new leaders and women are encouraged to seek leadership positions. Notably in December 2019 elections, the participation of women was high with 66 per cent of elected representatives being women. Three of the women who stood for camp-wide leadership elections and were voted into 6-month formal leadership terms for block leader, youth leader, and sector leader were among participants of the Women Empowerment Project implemented by IOM CM. These women cited the leadership training as an influence on their decision to run for office, saying that they used communication techniques from the activities in their campaigns and were given confidence to assist their community through the formal leadership.
“I am very happy that my community did not look at my disability but my ability to lead them. I would like to encourage other women to believe in themselves and know that despite challenges that we face as women, opportunities still exist for women to be in decision-making roles,” said Juliata.
“While we’re extremely happy to see this outcome for Juliata, we know that the reality for persons with disabilities in the PoC can be difficult,” said IOM’s Scalco. “Members of this community can face stigma, discrimination, and challenges in accessing vital services. This is something we are working to improve every day through our programming.”
IOM Camp Coordination and Camp Management has implemented a variety of activities to support and strengthen community leadership structures and governance in the Wau PoC site. These efforts include organizing transparent election processes, building the capacity of leadership structures and partner organizations, facilitating workshops on leadership skills for women, and continuously engaging various community committees such as those representing women, youth, and persons living with disabilities.
These activities are supported by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), Canadian International Development Agency and the IOM HQ funding.
This article was written by Loyce Nabie, IOM South Sudan Media and Communications Assistant.