Francis first heard an episode of Sawa Shabab (Together Youth), the peace building radio drama, in 2014 when he was studying at the university in Wau, in Western Bahr el Ghazal.
The drama resonated with him. It was highly entertaining and presented the lives of South Sudanese youth he could identify with. Following the political violence that erupted in December 2013, he recognised that the programme was also about youth who were taking responsibility to resolve conflict themselves within their own communities.
Francis didn’t simply listen, he responded to the question posed to the audience at the end of the show by calling in and having a conversation with the Sawa Shabab team. He also texted a message after the next episode and again the following week. He was hooked.
Francis knew there was a role that he could play in building peace but didn’t know exactly what that was. That’s where the Sawa Shabab team came in. In 2015, they recognised Francis as a “super fan” and, along with a small group of other dedicated listeners, trained them in conflict resolution, leadership, project management and technology tools to become “youth mobilisers” in Juba, Bor and Wau.
These youth mobilizers worked with the Sawa Shabab team to lead community-based peace building activities like theatre, music and sports. Francis organised radio listening groups and peace discussions that included 600 secondary school students in Wau. He also received a smart phone to coordinate with different youth groups and youth mobilisers in Juba and Bor, creating a network of youth leaders working toward peace.
Over 8,000 people were involved in these local peace building projects.
Unfortunately, Francis didn’t have more time to work with local youth directly. Violence, which had been mostly confined to the Greater Upper Nile, spread to Wau and other parts of Western Bahr el Ghazal. He was forced to move to Juba in early 2016. During his time in Juba, Francis learned more about the educational goals of Sawa Shabab and began volunteering to reach out to youth through Facebook and Twitter – allowing him to interact virtually with other young people interested in peace.
During that same time, Francis applied for a fellowship at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). The Sudanese and South Sudanese Youth Leaders programme at USIP offered Francis the chance to gain new skills and experience in conflict resolution during four months of study in the United States.
While he awaited word on his application, violent conflict again broke out in Juba in early July 2016, resulting in an expansion of armed conflict and a massive humanitarian crisis. When Francis received word in August that he had been selected for the Youth Leaders programme, violence had already spread to Equatorian states, and the economy was rapidly deteriorating.
Francis once again found himself on the move, this time fleeing to Khartoum. After three months, Francis arrived in Nairobi to prepare for his trip to the US.
He spoke passionately about his desire to apply the lessons learned from his fellowship to build peace in South Sudan. He expressed his determination to return, saying: “the heart is there.”
Although he noted that his journey is different from most other young people in South Sudan, he emphasised the importance of youth in diaspora communities around the world returning (when possible) to build peace.
It’s this lesson of collective action, bringing young people together for peace, that Francis is already well qualified to pass on to other youth.
About Sawa Shabab
Sawa Shabab is a curriculum-based radio drama series designed to raise youth awareness of their role in building peace. Produced in South Sudan by Free Voice in partnership with PeaceTech Lab and the United States Institute of Peace, the third season of the series is set to broadcast on over 30 local stations across South Sudan in December 2016. The programme is also intended to reach at-risk communities in IDP camps, in refugee camps such as Kakuma and in conflict-affected areas. The first three seasons consist of 20 episodes (15 minutes each) in Arabic and English. One full season in Dinka and Nuer was produced and aired in early 2015.
The curriculum, developed in close consultation with local partners, has been tailored to address specific drivers of conflict in South Sudan such as gender inequities, generational divides, tribal violence, cattle raiding and lack of access to resources. The series is designed to promote peace and stability by empowering youth to be confident, open minded and participatory citizens.