Women car washers at UNMISS hope to become entrepreneurs in a peaceful South Sudan
“With the money I earn working at the UNMISS car washing bay, I’m able to pay hospital fees for my aging parents and also send my younger brother to school,” says Victoria Hanan.
Victoria is one of the 18 women who work at the peacekeeping mission’s car wash, ensuring patrol vehicles are in top condition to reach remote communities across South Sudan.
It’s an unusual job and a meaningful one for everybody employed here, says Mary Kiden, another veteran car washer. “My husband died in 2017 of Hepatitis-B. We managed to survive the civil war only for me to lose him to a disease that we should have been able to afford vaccinations for,” reveals Mary. “This job in the UNMISS car wash came at the right time for me. It gave me the economic stability to be able to provide for my family.”
Mary, Victoria and all of their female counterparts at the UNMISS car wash have similar stories of loss and survival – each of them have suffered immensely from fighting; they have survived displacement, deaths of close family members and, in some cases, sexual violence.
Most of them did not get to finish their education and possess little or no formal qualifications that could, potentially, make them suitable candidates for office-based jobs in Juba.
This is where UNMISS stepped in. “At UNMISS we are always mindful of the need to ensure full participation of women across the mission’s workforce,” states Ashraf Ouf, Head of the mission’s Transport Section. “So, we decided to work with our local partners, Madral Development Organization, to ensure that 75 to 80 per cent of our car wash employees who are recruited on a local contracting arrangement are women,” says Mr. Ouf.
The women and men employed by the UNMISS car wash are trained to develop their skills in automotive maintenance such as deep-cleaning cars, thorough washing and waxing of exteriors, deodorizing interiors, performing detailed inspections to ensure all vehicles are road-ready, along with record-keeping and adhering to a strong, client-focused ethic.
According to Jacob Sunday, a 33-year-old and one of the few men at the UNMISS car wash, everyone has learnt a lot on the job. “When we separated from Sudan and formed a new nation, women and men in South Sudan both contributed equally to the dream of democracy. We were partners,” avers Jacob. “Somehow, as a country, we failed our women when the civil war began. But now, we’re working shoulder-to-shoulder at the car wash and even sharing our own ambitions for when there is durable peace here.”
Jacob wants to become a professional driver while Victoria is confident that when peace across South Sudan becomes a tangible reality, she will be able to move on and start her own business.
“I love what I do. I’m not scared about earning money anymore. I want to start my own car washing facility one day and teach the skills I’ve learnt at the UNMISS bay to young people who have the will to shape a financially secure future for themselves,” she says with a smile.