Discussing peace over a cup of coffee: Displaced women in Tambura speak up

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A cup of coffee and a safe place to share their stories: 250 women recently displaced by an upsurge of violence in Tambura, South Sudan, reveal how their harrowing experiences of conflict and loss have motivated them to become ambassadors for peace. Photo by Phillip Mbugo/UNMISS

15 Mar 2022

Discussing peace over a cup of coffee: Displaced women in Tambura speak up

Phillip Mbugo

WESTERN EQUATORIA - The unmistakable smell of freshly brewed coffee permeates the air, while sounds of singing, dancing and rejoicing rise towards the blue sky in Tambura, Western Equatoria.

It’s a far cry from the scenes that people living here have witnessed in the past few months—gunshots, families fleeing in fear, farms and properties being destroyed, and grass huts going up in flames.

Conflict has destroyed livelihoods for hundreds of thousands in the greater Tambura region.

But their spirit remains unbroken as demonstrated by some 250 displaced women who came together to share a hot beverage and talk about rebuilding their lives at an interaction arranged by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The main objective: To harness the power of women in mediating conflict and hone their natural abilities as peacemakers.

“The women of Tambura have not been able to meet for more than six months now,” says Suzan Carmelo, one of the participants.

“This is, therefore, a joyous occasion for us. We are here to show our solidarity with each other and highlight the immediate need for all of us to coexist peacefully,” she adds.

The intense suffering they withstood appears to have created an unshakeable sisterhood among them.

For Bibiana Luka Cazimilio, who was displaced when armed attackers arrived at her village, every second of life is something to be thankful for.

“I could have been dead by now. However, fate intervened, and I am sitting here, drinking a cup of coffee with my fellow women. We have survived unspeakable horror and the reason we have congregated is to pass a simple message—let’s rid our hearts of hate and live together in peace. We know that conflicts and violence bring nothing but untold misery in their wake,” states Bibiana eloquently.

Carmela Danato Usini, another woman who lost everything during the clashes last year, says she believes that it is a combination of faith and the proactive response by UNMISS peacekeepers that have finally led to some relative stability in the region.

“We can only thank God and thank UNMISS peacekeepers. If it weren’t for these brave men and women in Blue Helmets, the situation in Tambura could have been much worse. I am grateful to be alive and I vow that I will always be an ambassador for peace,” she avers.

Additionally, participating women unanimously underscored the need for support from the government, UNMISS and humanitarian partners to start an adult education center.

Margret Modong, a Gender Affairs Officer with the UN Peacekeeping mission, is certain that these spirited discussions indicate how cogent it is for women and girls across South Sudan to be fully involved in ongoing peace processes.

“Women are the backbone of communities across this young nation. Their needs and their voices have been traditionally excluded when it comes to any form of decision-making,” reveals Ms. Modong.

“But when I hear these heartfelt testimonies, I am reminded how vital their participation is when it comes to building peace from the ground up. It is a proven fact that peace processes are more sustainable when women have a seat at the table,” she states passionately.

As the sun slowly goes down bringing an end to the day, these remarkable women gathered at the Women’s Resource Center in Tambura still have a few laughs to share, despite the terrors of their recent past.

The event was organized by the mission’s Gender Unit.