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Diary from the Field

It has been six years and five months since I joined the Nonviolent Peaceforce family. It all started in Sri Lanka way back in May of 2009, just after my voluntary assignments in Pakistan and Nigeria with Volunteer Service Overseas as a Human Rights and Policy Advocacy Advisor. In the beginning, it was a great challenge adjusting to my responsibilities at NP, which were very different from what I was doing before. My work now consisted of: accompanying vulnerable people to travel safely from place to place, providing proactive presence 24/7 for injured patients being threatened by tribal violence in the hospital, foot patrol, and Family Tracing and Reunification. Although this was a new experience for me, as a member of NP I had to fulfill my assigned duties  ̶  regardless of personal internal fears or doubts. Thankfully, with the support of community members and NP staff, I have been able to overcome my fears and excel as a member of the NP family. As I always say to my colleagues in both Sri Lanka and South Sudan, “life is simple... it is just we who make it complicated...” Meaning if you define your goals, stay focused, and most importantly put your heart into your work, everything will be fine.

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By Derek Oakley, International Protection Officer for Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan

OakleyOn April 17, 2014, my colleague Andres and I were in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Protection of Civilians (POC) compound in Bor, South Sudan. Gunmen invaded the compound and fired upon unarmed men, women and children, killing at least 58 people. These people were largely internally displaced people (IDPs) of the Nuer ethnic group. They had been staying in the POC since the civil war in South Sudan erupted in December 2013. Alongside five women and nine children (whom we had sheltered with for the duration of the assault), Andres and I survived unharmed through a combination of nonviolent training focused on strategy in dealing with violent conflict and ethnic tensions. We were threatened on multiple occasions with guns, axes and sticks. We were even ordered by gunmen to leave the women and children behind. We refused to do so, calmly insisting that we were humanitarian workers and that these were innocent women and children who had nothing to do with the war; we would not leave without them.

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By Kristine (Tin) Valerio, Team Leader in Northern Bahar El Ghazal for Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan

kav southsudan2As we enter this year’s Women’s Month, the heat of South Sudan envelops my body. After meeting the transnational feminists in Asia, together with my fellow Filipinas, I came back to South Sudan welcomed by its hottest season. The leaves are falling down and the grass is brown. The river, just months ago populated with fishermen, is becoming part of the vast dry soil. The cows and goats are thinner and weaker. Hunger, which is a part of everyday life for most South Sudanese, will definitely be exacerbated. With South Sudan’s dry season the migration of the pastoralists along the borders of Sudan is on its way. This may bring conflicts, killings, revenge, and echoes of cries among the communities of Riziegat, Misseryia and Dinka Malual.

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By David Browning, Nonviolent Peaceforce Team Leader – Minkaman in South Sudan

Dave DeploymentOver the last couple of months I have been privileged to support the leadership of Awerial County. These leaders are desperately trying to contain a conflict between clans that has repeatedly threatened to spiral out of control. I have long been fascinated by the demands and responsibilities of leadership; what I have witnessed has imbued a belief in me that there is hope for this deeply troubled country.

The conflict began in late October when a cattle camp infected with the tick borne disease East Coast Fever moved from Minkaman, where the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) team is based, to Dor Payam, 30 km north. The cattle camp had been repeatedly asked by the local government to remain in Mingkaman so their cattle could receive treatment. However, not understanding how the disease is spread, they decided to leave their camp in an attempt to escape the disease.

We were rightly concerned that the arrival of infected cattle in Dor would cause conflict; as several other camps of cattle were there at the time. Our team was in Dor discussing the issue with the respective camps and the local government when the fighting started. We had received assurances from the infected camp that they would not venture from the outskirts of Dor. These were assurances that they had also given to the Payam Administrator. (Payam is an administrative division).

However, for reasons that remain unclear and mere hours after we had spoken with the camp, they began to move some of their cattle towards the center of Dor. This sparked a violent confrontation with cattle keepers from another camp. When the initial fighting eased the local government requested we transport two wounded teenagers to Mingkaman for medical attention. Word quickly spread that these teenagers had been shot and as the team drove back to Mingkaman we witnessed hundreds of armed youths headed towards Dor seeking revenge.

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By Jasper Peet-Martel

Myanmar Country Office Programs Intern

DSC01015Myanmar, ripe with energy for change, is an incredibly diverse country, with over a hundred ethnic groups which all have rich and unique histories. The current conflicts of Myanmar, however, are just as diverse as its people. After many decades of conflict, there are now 16 Ethnic Armed Groups with which the Myanmar Government is in negotiation over a comprehensive Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). As an intern in the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) Myanmar Country Office, I assist in coordinating and implementing NP’s programs that provide technical assistance to our local non-government organization (NGO) partners. Through these partnerships, we set up systems that work to protect civilians from violent conflict and provide positive structures for dialogue and peace.

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By Abdul Raheem Mohamed Zulfi, Nonviolent Peaceforce Team Leader in South Sudan

Zulfi Diary of Peacekeeper 2It was Friday afternoon and I was sitting with my Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) team members in a small ‘Rakuba.’ This is a shelter made of grass and poles brought from local market and built for multiple purposes. We use the space mainly for our office work and frequently as a venue for meetings or training workshops.

“It is 3:00 o’clock. In another half an hour time, there is a meeting organized by our Child Protection Committee (CPC) with Angolo community in Block 12,” said Essa, one of our staff from the Nuban community. We quickly finished our discussion on the tool to assess protection concerns of children. Particularly to assess protection concerns for children in the market in Yida Refugee settlement. This is a space where NP has closely been working with Nubian communities since the establishment of the camp.

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We’re the cowboys of the organizationIt’s been a slow couple weeks in Juba. I was supposed to be out on mission earlier in the week, but due to circumstances outside of my control, I was never manifested on the flight and found myself grounded for another week in the capital.

I’m on the mobile protection team – a new approach to protection mainstreaming that is being led by Nonviolent Peaceforce. The idea is to integrate the protection of civilians into the overall humanitarian response in a sustained, meaningful way.

The problem is that the humanitarian sector is often preoccupied with logistics – how to get food from A to B, how many households need mosquito nets, how to target vulnerable populations who have fled to the bush. These civilians are subsisting on emergency food, sheltering under trees or in disused cattle camps.  

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By Francisca da Silva, Child Protection Project Coordinator, Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Philippines

Diary of a Peacekeeper - Francisca da SilvaPeople often speak of a conflict in terms of statistics or overarching issues and fail to acknowledge the most important element, the people for whom the conflict is a daily reality. When I reflect on Nonviolent Peaceforce’s (NP) work in the Philippines, it is the close connection with communities and partner organizations that stands out. We address conflict through constructively engaging the people who have experienced it and are the true experts. The focus is on building trust, ensuring non-partisanship and gaining acceptance from communities, local civil society organizations and conflicting parties. This multi-level approach is a critical aspect of the work we do.

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By Tiffany Easthom, Nonviolent Peaceforce Country Director in South Sudan, April 15, 2014

Tiffany in South Sudan"As I sit in my office in Juba, watching the sky darken with rain clouds, I feel deeply reflective about this place that has been my home for the last four years. It was only four months ago today, when vicious fighting erupted, setting off the worst armed conflict South Sudan has seen since 2005. I cannot help but think of the light and happy mood that settled over everyone in those days before the clashes started and when the whole Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) team was in a festive mood. Most of the national colleagues were getting ready to visit their villages to be with their families and many of the international staff had scheduled their rest and relaxation break for the holiday season. An emergency response team was remaining in country on a "just in case" basis – just in case there was an emergency that needed response. But given the time of year, we were all expecting there to be a lot of downtime over the last two weeks of December. Yet with the shot of the first gun on the evening of December 15th, it all changed.

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By: Abdul Raheem Mohamed Zulfi

International Protection Officer Mohamed Zulfi with beneficiaries in Myom County, Unity State“Good Morning,” said the voice of a man. I turned to the voice while I was trying to put a kettle of water on a charcoal stove. The cup of tea was necessary, to protect my body against the cold during the early hours of the morning. It took a few seconds to identify the man. It was dark and he had wrapped his body with a blanket.

“Good morning, James Gatluak, what’s up?  Today is a national holiday don’t you know?” I expressed my surprise at his unexpected early morning visit. James is one of our national protection officers and his face was full of fear. “I’ve just been informed of an urgent protection issue”, he said, and continued to explain with tension.  “A 14 year-old girl was raped by a group of boys.”

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