“With the right support, women can achieve great things”—Christine Wani, Business Owner, South Sudan
EASTERN EQUATORIA - Christine Lado Wani runs an unusual business in Torit, Eastern Equatoria: She sells construction material.
“I know it's strange to see a woman selling wooden planks, bamboo and other sundry items,” she acknowledges with a laugh. “But I have managed to build up a substantial client base across Torit and Katire who rely on me to supply them regularly.”
As a child, Christine dreamt of working in an office someday. But her hopes were cruelly shattered by financial hardships.
“I had nobody to pay my school fees. I really wanted to study to the point that I started making and selling charcoal, but I didn’t earn enough to fund an entire education,” she recalls wistfully. “When I got married, things were okay for a while; however, my husband soon died, and I was left alone to bring up four children.”
Christine’s stepfather, seeing the immense challenges she was facing, stepped in and introduced her to his trade. Since then, there has been no looking back for this imaginative and motivated woman.
“Learning to run a business restored my self-worth and I was determined to succeed. I have to say life, while still constrained in many ways, is much better than it used to be. I am able to make enough money to feed and educate my children,” reveals Christine.
A constant worry for her, as a small business owner: Upsurges in conflict and violence.
“I remember the situation in 2013 and 2016 vividly,” reminisces Christine. “At first, we all thought that the fighting would be centered in Juba, the capital, and not impact us. That notion was dispelled immediately when our village was attacked.”
Christine recounts the horror of living in a refugee camp in Uganda. “My memories of that time are truly horrible. We fled, leaving behind everything we owned, to Uganda. As a woman in a refugee camp, life was unimaginable. The United Nations and other humanitarian partners came to assist with tents and building materials but most of us had no inkling about how to create shelters from scratch and no money to pay someone else to do it,” she states simply.
Many community members who sought refuge in Uganda at the same time as Christine did are still too traumatized to return.
On a more hopeful note, though, Christine says she believes that the situation has improved, following the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, at least across Eastern Equatoria.
“It has become much easier for people to commute across the state,” she avers.
Despite everything she has gone through, Christine’s optimism is infectious. “I think women can achieve great things for their communities when given the right support and opportunities,” she reveals.
Christine says she believes that protecting, promoting and respecting women’s rights will give a much-needed boost to overall development across South Sudan. “South Sudanese women are very hardworking. More importantly, we are excellent mediators. I have personally seen women make a massive difference at the grassroots level when it comes to resolving disputes. This power must be harnessed.”
What, according to her, is needed to squarely place women at the centerstage of politics, leadership, governance and decision-making? “Supporting women to form savings and credit cooperatives that help strengthen our enterprises; or to form focused associations to allow us to learn from one another and from mentors within the group can help us a lot,” she states passionately.
This remarkable woman beams with contentment when speaking about her children.
“I have been running my business for 12 years now and my greatest achievement is that I have managed to give my children the education I didn’t get the chance to receive myself. My dearest wish is that my children surpass everything I have managed to do,” she declares.
Christine’s message to women and girls on International Women’s Day: “Send your children to school and give them the chance at shaping a future that they so richly deserve.”