Thursday, February 14, 2019

Emerging leaders from South Sudanese communities around Australia explored ways they can cooperate to bring peace to South Sudan, at a four-day workshop at the University of Melbourne and Armagh, the Australia-Pacific Centre of Initiatives of Change (IofC). The January 2019 event brought together people involved in various community-based initiatives to share information and discuss shared challenges.

Explaining the motivation behind the workshop, David Vincent, community engagement officer at IofC Australia, noted that the recent conflict of 2013 in South Sudan has caused ‘immense disunity’ among the diaspora, splitting communities along tribal lines. ‘Over the last six years in Australia, it has been rare for members of the South Sudanese community to converge for the purpose of dialoguing for peace and reconciliation,’ he said. ‘This lack of trust is mainly fuelled or caused by the disunity that continues to spread as the situation back in South Sudan deteriorates.’

The workshop content, he explained, was designed to help create a pool of ethical leaders within the South Sudanese diaspora community in Australia, and to rebuild trust and unity.

'A very special moment...'

Indigenous leader, ‘Aunty’ Joy Murphy Wandin, opened proceedings with a traditional ‘welcome to country.’ Some participants had never experienced this kind of welcome, and one commented that, ‘This is a very special moment - as a refugee, to be welcomed by the traditional landowner to this country that we now call home.’

Sessions included a ‘comparative learning’ dialogue facilitated by community workers from Timor-Leste, in which participants reflected on the similarities between the Sudanese and Timorese experiences of nation building and reconciliation.

Among the speakers was Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the UN Commission in Human Rights in South Sudan. Sooka engaged in a lively dialogue with participants via Skype on actions they could undertake to promote peace and human rights, facilitated by Mark Sawers, former Australian Ambassador to Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, Djibouti, and South Sudan.

A session on personal transformation, facilitated by IofC Australia’s Executive Officers, Athalia Zwartz and Kathryn Gor, recalled IofC’s history of peace building with the South Sudanese community in Australia as well as in Sudan, dating back to the 1950s.

Personal change and personal action

Overall, the workshop emphasized the need for personal action and personal change as the basis for working with integrity in healing long-standing divisions.

 ‘Besides building participants’ skills and motivation for peace building in their own communities, the workshop aimed to create a platform for emerging leaders to meet, connect and share with each other the challenges they are facing,’ Vincent explained. ‘From this point of view, the workshop exceeded expectations.’

Some of the workshop outcomes include the creation of a WhatsApp group to encourage regular communication among participants even after they have returned to their homes around Australia. On the final day, participants affirmed the importance of personal change and individual action as the core foundation for further work.

Looking to the future, participants have requested IofC Australia to hold a ‘dialogue conference’ that will bring together representatives of various tribal groups in Australia’s South Sudanese diaspora. - Delia Paul

  • The Emerging Leaders workshop was supported by the university’s Melbourne School of Government, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Institute for Economics and Peace, a global think-tank with a presence in Sydney.
  • For information about IofC Australia’s work with South Sudanese communities, contact David Vincent.