I am a Peace Soldier is an initiative launched by David Nyuol Vincent, Patrice Barrat, and Sarah Lewis.
The return to conflict in South Sudan demonstrates that tribal divisions persist, and can degenerate into hate and violence.
This proposal aims to work at building peace at a grassroots level in communities in South Sudan and the worldwide diaspora.
It strives to change attitudes, so the focus shifts away from violence. Young people are encouraged to become ‘peace soldiers’ and inspire people to be part of one nation – regardless of their tribal allegiance.
South Sudanese refugees living in camps in Ethiopia and Kenya in the 1990s were united, regardless of their tribe, by the tragedy of the war and the common goal for survival. By targeting the young generation who have not yet learnt to hate, the ‘I am a Peace Soldier’ movement hopes to engender a change of attitude that will help build unity. When past tribal hatred and ideologies have been passed on within families, we hope that the younger generation will spread the word of living without hate.
Through education we aim to promote the power of peace and a feeling of shared destiny in the younger generation of South Sudan, so they focus their energy on peaceful nation building. This will be done by emphasising the similarities that all people in South Sudan share in their recent history, so the attention shifts away from perceived differences.
The website www.iamapeacesoldier.com will house the project. ‘I am a Peace Soldier’ t/shirts will be distributed throughout South Sudan. Social media will also be used to spread the word. South Sudan will be a testing ground for this campaign. If successful, there is potential for it to be introduced to other nations experiencing instability.
As soldiers are associated with guns, ‘I am a Peace Soldier’ will develop a Peace Tool Kit (PTK) as its weapon, a booklet that will be available on our website for different groups to use. This will be based on ideas that will aid any individual to continue to keep peace in their own community.
The focus of the ‘I am a Peace Soldier’ proposal is threefold, through writing, music and film. On completion, a travelling exhibition will showcase the project internationally. It is intended the work will also be presented to the United Nations.
Students from South Sudan’s four main universities will be encouraged to participate in a writing competition. Other regional villages in South Sudan will also have the opportunity to participate. They will be invited to write a story, a reflection, or a poem about ‘Peace’ and what it means to them personally. The focus will be on finding peace within oneself and creating the potential for peace within the nation of South Sudan through a written personal account of what peace means in their life, their family and their community.
Participants will also be asked to develop a project that encourages peace within their community in a practical way.
The competition will be judged based on the different levels of education. From each community, a project will be funded and its implementation fully supported. With assistance, the individual winner will engage in a process of change within his or her own life and community.
The winning entrants’ written work on peace will be uploaded onto the website www.iamapeacesoldier.com’.
The intention is to plant a seed of inspiration so that participants are empowered to be agents for change rather than looking to politicians and people in ‘positions of power’. Change is often more effective when it begins at a grassroots level and then filters through to the older generations and politicians.
Young South Sudanese people will be encouraged to take part in a filmmaking project to tell their story. Individuals are given access to a camera for a couple of days, during which time they record their life and ideas about peace. They are assisted with editing to create a short film. The films are played back to them in a pop-up cinema in South Sudan, as well as in forums within the diaspora communities. Cinema and videos shown in South Sudanese villages can have a profound effect on young minds. Many towns have only a single generator to run their electricity and seeing their stories brought to life in this way, with the focus on peace building, will leave a strong impression.
In addition to experiencing their own trauma, South Sudanese communities have also inherited the trauma of past generations. Telling individual stories is a way to connect with others through sharing, creating a space for understanding and healing.
These different film testimonies and musings on peace will be uploaded onto the website www.iamapeacesoldier.com’.
Other international advocates for peace, who have overcome great personal obstacles, will also be profiled via filmed interviews on the website.
The ultimate expression of this part of the project would be to interview Salva Kiir and record him speaking on a human level about how he has personally been affected by the experience of war. It would also be a great asset to have a prominent Nuer politician such as Madame Angelina or Dr. Reik Machar to speak about their personal experience of war.
South Sudan’s history of music and singing will be used to create a new narrative for the country. In the past, morning time was spent singing for many hours in village communities, but the songs have traditionally focused on war.
Established musicians (to be confirmed) will partner with young musicians in South Sudan to create a song that focuses on peace building in the new nation. This song will be introduced in school settings and we hope to create a new anthem of hope for the future generations.
‘I am a Peace Soldier’ was launched with a forum in Melbourne, coinciding with the anniversary of South Sudanese independence. The forum included a keynote speech by Tim Costello, (CEO of World Vision Australia and 2008 winner of the Australian Peace Prize) awarded by the Peace Organisation of Australia.
The evening included peace testimonies from people around the world, including the South Sudanese diaspora.
Launch night featured South Sudanese musicians Ajak Mabia and Grey Bull, author David Nyuol Vincent and spoken word poet Abe Nouk as MC. Zakia Baig from the Australian Hazara Women’s Friendship Network also recited a poem.