Youth, Peace, Security and a bit of tree planting in Malakal
A wise Chinese person once said, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is today.”
Feeling inspired by these words, Indian peacekeepers set out on a tree-planting mission, taking along with them young people from Malakal town, the State Minister for Culture, Youth Affairs and Sports and representatives from the UNMISS field office.
The initiative was part of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers commemorations, which focused on increasing youth participation in peace and security issues.
The day began with UNMISS veterinarians running a free animal care camp as a motivating factor for young livestock farmers in a country where cows, especially, are revered and considered prized possessions.
The veterinarians painstakingly treated and dewormed more than 200 cows, donkeys, sheep and goats at the veterinary clinic rebuilt by UNMISS and run by Indian peacekeepers with support from local community animal health workers.
Whilst the animals gathered outside, inside the establishment’s hall, a group of young actors performed a moving drama on the erstwhile civil war and how it has changed their lives.
There was pin drop silence, interrupted only by the occasional uncomfortable laughter that indicated that the adults in the room had read the memo behind the presentation loud and clear: young people have had enough of violence and want to forge a brighter, more peaceful future for themselves.
The Youth Minister for Upper Nile State, Hafsa Ajak alluded to this powerful message when giving her remarks, as she referenced recent clashes that occurred in Nassir county.
“We have received news that just yesterday nearly 30 youth lost their lives in the fighting in Nassir and Ulang counties. The older generation make the decision to go to war, but it is youth who are sent out to fight,” she stated. “This is why I say, without youth, we cannot have peace and security in South Sudan.”
For his part, Christian Mikala, Head of the UNMISS Field Office here echoed the Minister’s sentiments when he spoke about young peacekeepers who had lost their lives while serving for peace in the world’s youngest country.
“The play we just saw showed us the significant role and responsibility of young people in maintaining harmony and security in Upper Nile State in particular, and South Sudan in general. They cannot be overlooked during decision-making processes, they deserve a seat at the table,” he averred.
Next month South Sudan celebrates a decade since it gained independence. Most of those years have been spent in conflict rather than in enjoying the fruits of their fight for freedom.
20-year old Rashel Amum was a young girl full of hope for the future back in 2011. Today, she speaks confidently about her concerns as a youth in Malakal.
“It is hard to hope nowadays because everywhere you look there is despair. There is hunger, our people are suffering. For me, I had hoped to be able to study at the Upper Nile University, but it closed during the fighting and has not reopened. I don’t know if I will be able to complete my education like I had hoped,” she says.
It is with this in mind that the Indian peacekeeper engaged with the youth on alternative income-generating activities such as poultry- and goat farming which are less common in these parts, for livelihood skills can act as a buffer for those unable to further their education due to the current circumstances.
Besides animal farming tips, almost 60 young people interacted with the mission’s Civil Affairs and Child Protection sections, who shared with their captive audience ways in which they can do more for their country as active citizens.
And at the end of it all, everyone got down and dirty as more than 50 neem saplings were planted as a beacon of hope that in coming years, the mature trees will provide meaningful shade for many in South Sudan’s second largest town.