TEDxJUBA South Sudan: A new nation has the opportunity to rebuild with new ideas
By Rebecca Fordham
Juba, 25 July 2012 – “Never give up. A lot of us came back and we never lost our focus or our dream. Go to school,” said Mr. William Kolong Pioth, social entrepreneur and former South Sudanese Lost Boy, at the inaugural TEDxJUBA event. ‘It doesn’t matter if you are under a tree or where you are. Go to school.’ Education, the value of young people and sustainable systems were common themes amongst the speakers.
“Creativity and innovation within South Sudan is helping to foster the soul of the new nation amidst the immense challenges it faces. UNICEF is privileged to sponsor TEDxJUBA” said Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, Representative of UNICEF South Sudan.
Entitled New Nation, New Ideas, and to mark the one year independence anniversary, cultural heritage and innovation were woven throughout. ‘I’m an Acholi, a Dinka, a Nuer. I am South Sudanese,’ said Mer Ayong, 29, singer and composer. ‘We are a new nation, but we are not a new tribe. It’s our turn as young people irrespective of what tribe we are to carry the flag of peace and development.’
Mer Ayong, recently arrived back after her family fled during the conflict, believes commitment and integration across the many communities will help to build a stronger South Sudan and to understand the difficulties.
The new nation is grappling with numerous challenges made even more difficult with the government led austerity measures. Starting from a very low base rate, it has some of the worst child and maternal indicators in the world: a quarter of all children are underweight. It is also one of the youngest nations, with 50% of its population under 18. The adult literacy rate stands at 27 per cent, and 70 per cent of children aged 6-17 have never set foot inside a classroom. Creative ways of approaching the challenges are vital to build community led approaches in a country where people have been through years of war and exclusion.
‘I looked at what we had and realized the soul of the nation is Lulu – the shea nut – soldiers used it for washing,’ said Eunis Koi, Marketing Manager Lulu Works, ‘We have beauty and resilience already within us, we should harness this.’
Shea butter is mainly used in cosmetics, such as oil, creams, soap and also as cooking oil. The successful business provides an income for 400 South Sudanese women, helping them maintain a healthy household with money for food, clothing, education and medical care. Sustainable living coupled with a wide variety of productive investments is contributing greatly to the development of the local economy.
Some of the speakers had returned to South Sudan after fleeing during the conflict, bringing with them skills and observations they had noticed whilst being away. ‘I came back because I wanted to empower women and children, I wanted to build clean water systems and create employment,’ said Mr William Kolong Pioth, former Lost Boy and social entrepreneur.
Forced to flee the conflict as a boy of 7, William Kolong Pioth, had to walk to Kenya and Ethiopia for over three months without knowing what happened to his family, eventually arriving in Canada, where he was educated. He taught himself about water purification to be able to provide clean water for South Sudanese villages, in return for bricks to build community schools.
His journey is one of incredible resilience, which many young people of South Sudan have had to experience and many still do.
Alek Wek described her own inspiring personal journey of survival and success. The former South Sudanese refugee and Supermodel’s participation at the event was part of her first trip back since Independence, paid homage to the strength of her family and the need to support young people.
‘Stay united and use your assets. Youth, women and girls of South Sudan - you are the future and you are the asset. A country can’t be built by resources alone, education is key to supporting the development of this new nation” concluded UN Special Representative of the Secretary General, Hilde Johnson.