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Nohman with local peacebuilders in South Sudan outside and posing for picture

From Mindanao to South Sudan

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Why South Sudan? Where is that? Are you not afraid? Is it safe? What are you going to do there? These are just a few of the questions people asked me upon learning that I would be working in South Sudan. I am still being asked the same questions, especially by people who do not understand my work. It was never an easy decision to make, especially leaving my family behind. I did not know what was awaiting me in South Sudan, but I was determined.

Before coming to South Sudan, I did my little research. I read about how the people of South Sudan suffered from ethnic violence; the civil war in 2013 and another breakout of violence in 2016; famine in 2017, which they described as a man-made catastrophe caused by civil war and economic collapse; and much more negative news. People may think I am crazy for still pursuing my decision after all those horror stories. But honestly, that is the reason why I am here now. I came here for a reason and with purpose.

I came prepared; equipped with my peace work experience in Mindanao; fueled with inspiration and eagerness to learn more approaches that are beyond what I have tried and tested in the Mindanao context; armed with the knowledge I mostly learned from MPI, both as a participant and as a class assistant in different courses.

In my journey as a peacebuilder from Mindanao to South Sudan, I have created an avenue where peacebuilding and protection work have met and married. It was not a walk in the park kind of experience. It has been more like passing a battleground where you have to be very careful not to be hit by stray bullets.

In celebration of MPI’s 20th Anniversary, I would like to recognize its contribution to my entire journey in peacebuilding work from 2012 until today. The knowledge and skills I have on conflict transformation, conflict resolution, bottom-up transformation, culture and identity, nonviolence, trauma healing, and even facilitation, which I am doing in my work now, and applying them with a civilian protection lens, are all from MPI. They have been strengthened through application and experience.

Through the knowledge I gained from different courses in MPI, I have designed trainings on community participatory conflict analysis, conflict prevention and conflict transformation, mediation and dialogue, social cohesion, and other related topics. I am sharing these with grassroots community leaders in South Sudan.

Nohman Khalil and people with whom he works in masks holding signs for "shaping peace together" and "nonviolence"Now, one year since I came to South Sudan, what is keeping me here? What is motivating me to stay even longer? Hope. It is the hope from the naked eyes of children telling me, “please stay.” It is the joy from the voices of every woman singing on the street telling me, “there’s hope.” It is the sincerity from the elders saying “we are tired of war.” It is the pain of every internally displaced person I met crying “we want peace.” I have hope that peace will be achieved.

I would like to go back to people asking me questions. They missed asking me if I am happy because I think that is what matters most. I am happy with what I am doing. I am waking up every day not only to make my dream a reality but to also contribute to making South Sudanese children's dream of peace a reality.

Nohman Khalil is a teacher by profession turned humanitarian worker and peacebuilder. Prior to joining Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) South Sudan as International Protection Officer, Nohman was with NP Philippines as Peacekeeping Officer, mainly working on the Early Warning and Early Response program of NP.

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