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In South Sudan, peacebuilders find healing for their own trauma

In its first year, AFSC’s South Sudan Program has provided trauma healing to dozens of peacebuilders, strengthening their ability to support their communities.

Trauma healing session in South Sudan
Peacebuilders during a trauma healing training session in South Sudan. Photo: AFSC/South Sudan

Alice* is a survivor of South Sudan’s civil war. Between 2013 and 2020, the war killed hundreds of thousands of people—including her husband—and displaced millions more. Like the majority of people in South Sudan, Alice was traumatized by her experiences. Now she is living and raising her children on her own and is sometimes stigmatized because she became a widow at such a young age. 

Alice earns her living by working for a peacebuilding organization, providing support for people who have also experienced violence and loss. She helps to resolve conflicts among family members, clans, and tribes—and assists people who have been internally displaced or who returned to South Sudan after seeking asylum in other countries.

Reliving her clients’ experiences retraumatizes her—limiting her ability to help others. She has often felt angry and suspicious of others, making it difficult for her to carry out her work. “I have problems accommodating other people’s point of view and deal with everyone as a suspect since my husband was murdered in cold blood,” she shared with us. “I also struggle a lot with decision making.”

In 2020, AFSC launched a program in South Sudan to address trauma among peacebuilders like Alice. With our support, local partners have provided trauma healing training to 32 staff members of community-based groups, faith-based organizations, and nongovernmental organizations. Those trained also learn how to train others in trauma healing—creating a ripple effect that has so far reached a total of 142 peacebuilders throughout the country. 

A training in Juba, South Sudan. Photo: AFSC/South Sudan 

As the country representative for AFSC in South Sudan and Somalia, I am grateful for caring supporters like you who help make this work possible. When Alice attended her first workshop with AFSC, she had not yet heard of concepts like primary and secondary trauma. The training helped her identify the trauma in her own life. She was also able to share her story, face her pain and grief, and begin to take steps toward healing, including receiving counseling. And although Alice has only begun her journey, she already feels so much relief. Now, she says, she is better able to listen to other people’s experiences instead of applying the lens of her own wounds—helping her become a more effective peacebuilder.

Other workshop participants have shared similar responses. One person told us that peacebuilding before trauma felt like “flying with one wheel.” Now they feel like they are going to fly far, flying on two wheels.

Because of the pandemic, most of our trainings have taken place online. The program draws lessons from AFSC’s ongoing work with Somali refugees in the Daadab Refugee camp in Kenya as well as our program in Burundi, where partners provide trauma healing to those displaced by civil war and election violence.

In addition to helping individual peacebuilders in South Sudan, we’re working with eight organizations to create workplace policies on trauma healing. It’s critical for peacebuilding organizations to make trauma healing an essential mainstream practice, providing workers with the psychosocial supports they need. 

Many of us understand how hard it can be to help others when we are struggling with pain ourselves. Thanks to supporters like you, AFSC is helping more people in South Sudan find healing from trauma, expanding access to vital support services, and contributing to peace and well-being for all. 

About the Author

Zaina is AFSC's country representative for Somalia. Since 2008, AFSC has worked with young people in Somalia – in close partnership with civil society organizations – to develop livelihoods, mitigate community conflict, and take on leadership and advocacy roles. 

 

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