As Halima emerges from the dusty truck she catches sight of her aunt among the crowd of singing women gathered to welcome them. Halima’s daughter was just a baby last time her great aunt saw her, and her son not yet born. Halima must break the news that her husband, a soldier in the Sudanese army, is dead, but with this news she swears she will not let confict take her children too. Halima and her aunt come from two tribes who for many years lived side by side. They shared land and water and married between families. Their elders would say, ‘We are two tribes but one community’. But their coexistence was torn apart towards the end of the civil war in Sudan, and though the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, on the ground this was nothing more than a piece of paper between governments.
As South Sudan struggled to fnd its feet in the shifting balance of power that the peace agreement bought, cattle raiding between the two tribes became common and farmers armed themselves to protect their scarce resources. There is a water dam in the area, which in previous years was a meeting point between the tribes, providing both with ample water, and the surrounding land with irrigation for crops. Since the confict started, the women have had to walk up to eight miles each day to fnd an alternative source of water, and the land lay fallow.
South Sudan suffers the most extreme poverty on earth and these villages are no different, the people live in grass huts and there is no sanitation or health service. A young woman named Handi bled for seven days whilst pregnant before anyone could fnd transport to take her to the nearest health service. She lost the baby and, whilst she hopes for more, she does not know what future her children can expect - the community can no longer afford to support a teacher. A sign bearing the symbols of international aid organisations stands in the centre of the village. Inside an empty hall there is a pay per play video player. There is no electricity and, at a cost of fve Sudanese pounds to play the flm on a generator, it is no wonder this hall offers little help to the people of the village.
Local NGO, the Collaborative for Peace in Sudan became involved in the area whilst running a workshop on election awareness. The Collaborative is an umbrella organisation funded through Peace Direct. It is the only local organisation working for peace across both North and South Sudan. Through the Collaborative fve representatives from the area were elected by the community to act as a peace committee.
Community members from both tribes quickly approached them to ask for help. Men and women, tribal elders and young people all spoke of huge gatherings in the past, the dancing and celebrations when they saw each other, and how the women would cook together, and the children would play together. They asked the peace committee to help this happen again.
The committee began by organising transport so the two tribes could meet again - vehicles are uncommon in the area, and most people travel by donkey, camel or on foot. On 7 April 2010 the people of the village sang and danced in welcome as the trucks rolled in, flled with over 500 men, women and children from their neighbouring tribe. It was just a two hour journey, but it was a journey none of them had made for over 5 years. Behind the trucks came more people on donkeys and camels, and later some on foot.
It was from one of these trucks that Halima emerged, and her aunt was one of the women who sang their welcome.
A huge meeting was held in the local administration hall. Although the women had to sit at the back, their very presence was unusual and showed the efforts the peace committee had made to involve them. The talks continued throughout the day, and though there were differences to be resolved, there was a general consensus refected in the words of one tribal elder,“This is our chance to change our community with our own hands.”
The following day the visit was returned, and after another full day of negotiations, both tribes committed to an agreement between them. The Collaborative gave each tribe some funds to buy seeds, it is just a small amount, yet it means that come May when the rains are over, they will be able to harvest their land. The two communities number about 5,000 people, yet this land should provide the crops they need to feed their families, and even some extra for the young men to sell at market.
It is just a small step and there is so much more that the community needs, but it cost under £2,000 for the Collaborative to fund this intervention - just 40 pence per person. This is what the community can achieve with such tiny amounts when they lead with their own hands, and at a tiny fraction of the costs of international intervention.
The Collaborative for Peace in Sudan has set up eight peace committees across Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Over the next year they will help these committees to intervene as and when they’re needed. They plan to set up 8 more, so they can reach more communities and help them to lead themselves out of confict.