UN volunteers crucial to protecting civilians and building peace in South Sudan

UN volunteers crucial to protecting civilians and building peace in South Sudan

UN volunteers crucial to protecting civilians and building peace in South Sudan

23 Feb 2018

UN volunteers crucial to protecting civilians and building peace in South Sudan

Francesca Mold

In May 2015, Kweku Bassaw was working alongside other civilian staff protecting hundreds of people who had fled from violent clashes and sought sanctuary at a United Nations protection site in Melut.

Suddenly, the UN base and protection site in the Upper Nile region of war-torn South Sudan became the target with mortar bombs landing in the compound injuring and killing some of those sheltering there.

Kweku, a Ghanaian national, was working as a United Nations volunteer. But in the midst of the crisis, he stepped up to take a leadership role, remaining calm, shepherding people to safety, and facilitating the evacuation of UN and humanitarian staff.

“When these forces came to capture this place, it became very tough,” he said. “I had to work with the forces on the ground to protect humanitarian and Mission staff - more than 500 of them. It was tough but also rewarding when I later received an email from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General thanking me for my efforts.”

Kweku is among 484 volunteers serving with the UN Mission and other agencies like UNICEF, the UN Development Programme and UN Population Fund in South Sudan. They work in remote and dangerous locations across the country protecting civilians and building durable peace.

Their efforts are crucial to improving the lives of millions of South Sudanese, suffering from the ongoing violence and the lack of access to food, shelter and healthcare after five years of civil war.

“To say it is difficult is an understatement. It’s close to impossible,” said the UN Volunteer Deputy Executive Coordinator, Toily Kurbanov. “It is really arduous work and yet the contributions of our selfless individuals who serve as UN volunteers are so huge.”

“I think our volunteers are being driven by hope, the hope that we’ve also heard from the leaders of the community in South Sudan. I think that’s what unites us all. But in the case of our UN volunteers they don’t only hope, they don’t only dream, they do something 24/7 to bring peace and development to South Sudan,” he said.

The UNV deputy executive coordinator is visiting South Sudan with his colleague Njoya Tikum, the new UNV Regional Manager for East and Southern Africa.

“Too often we tell the sad stories rather than the positive ones,” said Njoya Tikum. “I want to tell the rest of the world that we have young people from across the world who are dedicating their time, their life. People who are willing to go beyond their comfort zones and help those who are really underprivileged and in very difficult parts of the world like South Sudan.”

During their visit, the UNV leaders met with UN Mission leadership to share the organization’s new strategic direction and discuss opportunities for increasing the contribution made by volunteers. South Sudan hosts the largest number of UN volunteers worldwide.

“We simply couldn’t do our work to protect civilians and build durable peace in South Sudan without the work of all of the volunteers,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS, David Shearer. “They work hard, long hours, far away from their families, their friends and their homes, risking their health and sometimes even their lives. But their efforts are making a real difference to the people of South Sudan.”

The UNV team also saw first-hand the protection site next to the UN base where some 38,000 internally displaced people have sought sanctuary, met with UNVs working as nurses and midwives, human rights officers as well as those in the aviation and support services, such as plumbing and electrical.