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April 22, 2014

By the People; For the People

Supporting South Sudanese in peace-building and reconciliation

by Faith Kasina

“My house is just behind this compound but I’m too afraid to go back. I’ll only leave when it’s safe.”

This is 25 year old Salome Amira’s reality, forced to leave behind a stable life and thriving business for an IDP camp outside South Sudan’s capital, Juba. 

A million more South Sudanese like her now live in similar camps within the country and beyond, resulting from political feuds which quickly begot tribal violence and war, mid last December.

However, Salome remembers a different South Sudan not too long ago.

“We all lived peacefully, coming from different tribes and parts of South Sudan and supporting different leaders,” Salome reminisces. “It seems we have forgotten that. Now, my own neighbours can’t accept my family and me because of the language we speak.”

  Head of International Division Caoimhe de Barra talks with Salome Amira, internally displaced with her family in Juba, South S

 

Captions

Top: Head of International Division Caoimhe de Barra talks with Salome Amira, internally displaced with her family in Juba, South Sudan. Salome was forced to leave her home and a thriving perfume business in the city after fighting broke out in mid December 2013. Salome is among the one million South Sudanese people currently displaced due to the conflict that started off as a political feud and quickly turned tribal. 
 
Bottom: A section of the UN House Juba 3 IDP camp that Salome currently lives in, with her husband and their one year old son.  The IDP camp is home to over 12,000 families, seeking refuge from conflict-stricken areas, mainly north of the country.  Approximately 803,000 South Sudanese live in 174 displacement sites across the country.  Photos: Faith Kasina.
 

For many South Sudanese, gaining independence from Sudan in 2011 was a symbol of renewed hope of a fresh start after years of conflict and war.

The present crisis has, conversely, opened up old wounds.

 “Sadness, distress and pain is the exact feeling of every South Sudanese today,” reiterates Isaac Kenyi from the Justice and Peace Commission that Trócaire supports in the country’s peace and reconciliation process. “We never expected brothers- who have stood together all this time and through the many struggles- to turn the gun against each other. It has taken us back to where we were many years ago.”

The Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) is the technical wing of the South Sudanese Catholic Church, representing the church in the country’s ongoing peace talks in Ethiopia. 

With a core advisory mandate to the talks, the JPC ensures that the position of the church-as that of the voice of South Sudanese- advocates for an end to the crisis through inclusive discussion and reconciliation is adapted in the process.

Through local parishes, theatre performances and radio programmes, the JPC communicates with local communities on the progress of the peace talks, whilst advocating for peaceful co-existence at local level.

“Our core mandate is to be the voice of that man, woman and child, displaced from their home because of the fighting, because conflict has affected all of us,”says Jim Long John, also with the JPC delegation to the talks. “But we all have an obligation to bring peace; it’s not enough to have only the warring parties searching for a solution. All South Sudanese have to be involved in their own way.”

Trōcaire partners with the commission with a view to linking local communities to the ongoing peace talks, thereby fostering a sense of ownership and participation in the process.

“It is important to remember that the peace agreement will be for all South Sudanese people regardless of their tribe, tongue or geographical location. Community dialogue within the peace talks will provide a good roadmap from which the long journey of peace building and national reconciliation will begin,” reiterates Edward Santiago, Trōcaire’s Country Representative in South Sudan.

It may seem like a long walk to freedom but Salome remains hopeful.

“It will take a long time for things to go back to normal but I’m sure the peace we are all praying for will be found.”

Trōcaire works with community-based and national partners to implement governance, peace building and reconciliation and livelihood programmes in South Sudan.

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March 28, 2014

Take up something this Lent!

Lent is not only a time to give something up.  It is an opportunity to take up active citizenship, to kick start the changes we need and have a positive impact on our environment and society.
 
Check out Trócaire's new one-stop-shop activist toolkit with great tips, ideas and information for campaigners, volunteers, cyber-activists, schools and church groups.  
 
 
This Lent, the Trócaire team has been meeting people around the country who are bringing about change in their local school, university, parish, or community.  
 
Our Water Project Officer from Malawi, Chitsanzo Kamawatima, visited Ireland recently to bring this year’s Lent story to Irish audiences. 
 
trocaire lent campaigners malawi
Top left: Mary Friel (Trócaire), Canon Brown, Chitsanzo Kamawatima, Fergus Lambe (volunteer), Grainne Neeson, Orla Neeson at Newry Cathedral 
Top right: Orla Quinn and Chitsanzo Kamawatima with students and staff from University College Dublin’s Volunteers Overseas programme 
Bottom left: Eamonn Neeson,Coordinator of Mourne volunteer group with Chitsanzo Kamawatima
Bottom right: Trócaire volunteer Kizito Mutahi in Dublin Co-op with people signing the petition
 
He shared information about the impact of water scarcity on communities in Malawi and what we could be doing locally and globally to address the harmful effects of climate change, which is devastating lives and livelihoods his country. 
 
Chitsanzo’s message had a strong impact on BA and MA students in University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, Mary Immaculate College Limerick, NUI Galway, Dundalk Institute of Technology, University of Ulster and Water Engineering students at Queen’s University in Belfast. He also spoke to parishes in Ballyfermot, Dublin, Newry, Limerick and the Dominican Grammar School in Portstewart.  
 
Trócaire volunteers around the country are mobilising people to take action. They are asking the Irish government to tackle the climate change crisis and encourage the public to live more sustainably.  
 
Collective action is a powerful force to bring about change. Use our activist toolkit to become the change-maker in your community so that collectively, we can tackle the global water crisis. 
 

Get involved

 
 
 
Many thanks to all the wonderful people who facilitated our visits around the country: Jane Mellot, Noirin Lynch, Zoe Liston, Ang De Marco (and Julia Shroer), Maurice Harmon, Kathy Reilly, and Ann Cleary. In particular a special thanks to Eamonn Neeson the Trócaire volunteer co-ordinator in the Mourne region who hosted Chitsanzo in Newry and organised an action packed morning speaking to crowds at Newry Cathedral.  
 

March 14, 2014

Volunteer report: Trócaire’s vital water projects in Ethiopia

by Rebecca Smyth, Trócaire Volunteer
 
In February 2014, Rebecca Smyth travelled to Ethiopia to visit Trócaire projects in the remote southern region of Boranaland. Here she shares her experiences.
 
Travelling to Ethiopia with Trócaire brought it home to me that small changes make a big difference and can transform lives for the better, as well as just how similar we human beings are around the world! This was so evident when I visited a water project funded by Trócaire. 
 
We travelled for four hours (of which two hours were off road) through the beautiful, red earthed and dusty landscape of Boranaland in the Southern most part of Ethiopia to visit the remote, rural community of Webb. 
 
Travelling to Webb I was very aware of how hostile the landscape and climate is in this region. With the area gripped by drought as recently as 2011 it reinforced just how vital Trócaire’s work really is here.
 
When we arrived in Webb the first thing we saw was the Ella, or ‘singing well’ which is traditional in this region. 
 
singing well ethiopia
Visiting the singing well in Webb, February 2014
 
The Ellas are deep, deep holes in the ground. Before the well was restored, it required a human chain of about thirty people on a rickety rope ladder to draw up water who sing in order to keep in rhythm (hence ‘singing wells’).  
 
This system was both inefficient and dangerous: it is time-consuming, it is laborious, and I heard tragic accounts from some of the women in Webb on members of the community who lost their lives falling from the ladder.  
 
With the help of Trócaire’s partner organisation, SOS Sahel, the local people made the well safer and more accessible. We could see with our own eyes how life has been transformed for the community.  
 
Now, rather than a precarious human chain of thirty or so people, there is a gentle slope down to an open space with troughs for the animals (cattle, goats, donkeys and camels) and separate reservoirs for the people.  
 
Only six men are needed to bring water up from the well to fill the troughs and reservoirs.  There is now less animal-human cross-contamination since the water sources are separated which has cut massively the rates of water-related diseases.
 
What also struck me is that water is time. By having a safe water supply, the people (mostly women and children) have been given their time back. 
 
trocaire water programme ethiopia
Teresa Hill (left), Barso Djirmo, the Abba Herega or 'Father of the well' (centre), and Rebecca Smyth (right)
 
They do not need to spend as much time fetching and carrying water and so can attend literacy classes or school, or take part in cooperatives. 
 
Not only does this reduce gender inequality, it also diversifies income.  
 
Rather than households being solely dependent on livestock – as is traditional with the Borana people, who face intense pressures due to climate change causing more frequent drought – they now have other forms of income, such as the incense and gum cooperatives.  
 
This in turn has facilitated the reinstatement of the traditional ‘social welfare’ system: the extra money earned goes into a collective fund used to support families in difficulty, to send children to school, to university. Their lives have been truly transformed! 
 
As we drove away from Webb in the midday heat, I was struck by the conversations I had with the women in the village. Just how similar our hopes and dreams are for good health, security and a better future for the next generation. Every human being deserves these things.
 
I suppose that’s what working for a just world is all about.
 

Get involved

 

Read more about Trócaire's water projects in Ethiopia

March 07, 2014

Success in the struggle for water in Zimbabwe: Thandiwe Ncube’s story

by Margaret Masanga and Nelly Maonde, Trócaire Zimbabwe
 
Trócaire marks International Women’s Day (8 March) with an inspirational story of resilience from Zimbabwe.
 
"If you fall into a river in Matabeleland, you get up and dust yourself." - Unknown
 
In a village in Matobo district of Southern Zimbabwe, Thandiwe Ncube (53), remembers a time when she dug for water on the sandy riverbed that feeds into Inditshi dam.  Sometimes she dug for hours for a single bucket of water for her family to survive each day. 
 
Thandiwe explains, “The nearest borehole is in the next village, 3-4 kilometres away. We had either to walk up and down in the scorching sun to that borehole or cut the time short by digging for water here on the dam.” She laughs as she narrates how she sometimes ‘disappeared’ into the hole before striking water. 
 
thandiwe ncube international women's day zimbabwe
Thandiwe Ncube (53). Photo: Margaret Masanga
 
For women in Thandiwe’s village, the morning began with a decision – to either walk the 3-4 kilometers to the borehole for one or two buckets of clean water or to dig for the contaminated water closer to home. Most chose to dig. “I would rather make an effort to dig. Once I reach the water, I know I can have enough for all I need to do.  Then I can always treat the water to drink.”
 
To address this pressing daily issue, Thandiwe, a mother of four, grandmother and widow, joined other men and women in the village as part of the Inditshi Dam Committee. The rehabilitation work carried out on the dam has helped to retain much of the water from record amounts of rainfall.
 
Fellow committee member Julia Nyathi (57) explains why the dam is so important to the women of her village:  “We are the ones who wake up early in the morning to fetch water. It means leaving our homes and children several times a day for long periods to walk long distances and fetch water. That is why I am in the committee, and always ready to get my hands dirty and make sure we have water.”
 
Though silt build-up continues to be a threat to the dam, the presence of new water has revived the area. The women involved in gardening are excited at the prospect of planting more crops, irrigating them and accessing water close to their homes. “Now that the dam is full, the water is closer to the surface, and we do not have to dig very far”, Thandiwe says pointing to an area over the embankment. It has the look of a wetland. “Now I can spend more time in my field, sell some vegetables and buy books for my grandchildren. I am inspired,” she adds. 
 
Thandiwe is involved in more than one livelihood activity to ensure she always has an income. In the bushes surrounding the dam, she and other women mould bricks. These are sold locally at ZAR700 (USD88) per 1000 bricks. Sometimes she gets an order for 2000 bricks and at other times sells nothing for months. “While I wait for brick buyers, the garden produce brings in a little income which we use to buy food items and meet school needs for my grandchildren. I could do more if I had the energy, resources and ideas.”
 
For Thandiwe, water is important to everything she does. “Look at me, I am clean. My clothes used to be dirty all the time. Now I wash them often, whenever I want.”
 
It is clear that the recent heavy rains have improved the water available in the area. But next season may be different. The challenge is to improve the capacity to conserve current and future supplies and use the water efficiently. 
 
With funding from Irish Aid and the Irish public, Trócaire is working with local partners in Zimbabwe to support communities in dry and semi arid regions of  Southern Zimbabwe to improve their livelihoods.  Through the rehabilitation and construction of new dams, communities are accessing and using the water for agriculture  and other livelihoods to improve their  food and income security. In 2014 alone, Trócaire will reach over 30,000 women and men with water for agricultural production and other Livelihoods.
 

Women and water

 
Data from surveys conducted in 45 developing countries show that women and children are responsible for water collection in the vast majority of households (76%). This is time not spent working at an income-generating job, caring for family members, or attending school. 
 
A study by the World Bank and the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre of community water and sanitation projects in 88 communities found that projects designed and run with the full participation of women are more effective and sustainable than those that do not. 
 
February 27, 2014

Reclaiming historic memory and public space in Guatemala

by Aisling Walsh, Guatemala
 
The 25th of February 2014 marked the 15th anniversary of the publication of ‘Memory of Silence’. 
 
This report on the findings of the Guatemalan Truth Commission, documented the acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and grave human rights violations that were committed by the State security forces during Guatemala's internal armed conflict that lasted 36 years. 
 
This historic day has been commemorated each year since 1999 as the when survivors, witnesses and families of those who died come together with human rights organisations and civil society in Guatemala to honour the memory of those who were massacred, tortured, disappeared and raped during the internal armed conflict. 
 
guatemala day of dignity
Top: Children light candles to remember the victims of the conflict. Bottom: Memorials to those who died or disappeared during the internal armed conflict. Photos: Aisling Walsh
 
The publication of ‘Memory of Silence’ in 1999 was a crucial step in the search for justice for victims of the conflict and their families. 
 
In the intervening years some progress towards achieving justice has been achieved, primarily as a result of the ceaseless activism and advocacy of civil society groups such as Trócaire’s partners the Centre for Legal Action on Human Rights (CALDH) and the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR). 
 
Most notable was last year’s trial of former president General Ríos Montt, who was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison. /blogs/justice-in-guatemala-as-rios-montt-found-guilty-of-genocide
Nevertheless, it seems that for every step taken towards a more just society in Guatemala conservative forces pull the country another two steps back. 
 
Only ten days following the sentencing of Ríos Montt the Constitutional Court overturned the guilty verdict on the pretext of procedural irregularities during the trial, and set a date for retrial for January 2015. 
 
In February this year the Guatemalan Constitutional Court took the unanimous decision to dismiss the current Attorney General and Chief State Prosecutor, Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey, before the completion of her full term in office. She presided over the historical Ríos Montt trial and has been active in pursuing cases of femicide, violence against women and corruption. 
 
This year’s celebration of the ‘National Day for the Dignity of the Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict in Guatemala’ was seen as an opportune moment to remind the government and the general public of the importance of the ‘Memory of Silence’ report and the rights of victims to truth, justice, reparations and the non-repetition of past crimes. 
 
Many activities centered on creating spaces for children and young people to learn about the history of the internal armed conflict and the importance of continuing the pursuit of justice in order to achieve a truly peaceful and free Guatemala. 
School children, teenagers, performers, musicians and civil society organisations took over a whole block of downtown Guatemala City for a festival of art, theatre, music, poetry and dance to commemorate the victims of the conflict and to demonstrate their solidarity with Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey. 
 
This symbolic act of reclaiming public space was particularly powerful in the current context of increasingly oppressive laws aimed at restricted civil society mobilisation and repression of human rights advocates here in Guatemala.
 

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