The activities I am engaged in at the Child Protection Unit are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically with SDG 16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. The unit’s work in Malakal meets one of the major targets specified under this goal, which is to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against, and torture of, children.
"Volunteers are links between communities and peacebuilding stakeholders, so it’s important they continue coming because they bring a lot of motivation," said Olga Zubritskaya-Devyatkina, Chief of the Volunteer Solutions Section.
With a particular focus on the protection of civilians, all my efforts were geared towards communicating with parties to the conflict and identifying ways forward, while simultaneously managing and preventing conflicts.
I met many people – from the opposition, the towns and the villages, government representatives and ‘monyomiji’ (youth) from different tribes – to discuss the peace process and the problems faced by the communities while maintaining peace and working on the development of their respective communities at the same time.
I quickly discovered that the mission is a mosaic of diverse characters facing unique challenges and chasing different dreams. For example, in my role as UN Volunteer Public Information Officer, I hoped to use my writing to highlight the collective challenges, as well as accomplishments, of a nascent nation like South Sudan to a global audience. But I never really considered what I was doing as humanitarian work.
I have a law and human rights back ground, and I strongly believe that bullets have never been a source of peace in any setting.
In my youth, I often volunteered with orphanages and animal rescue organizations in my country. Although I felt that I could and should do more to help build a better world, I didn’t know where to start. This was until I delved into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I then realized that what I wanted was a volunteer assignment within the United Nations system, particularly in a place where I could advocate for equality, respect for diversity and peace and development. I applied for a UNV assignment and was accepted as an Air Operations Assistant with UNMISS.
In 2013, South Sudan entered a civil war – a conflict which continues till today. The impact of insecurity has had a profound impact on people. Poverty has worsened, from 44.7 per cent in 2011 to 65.9% in 2018. Female-headed households (48.6 per cent of all households in South Sudan) experience more severe depth of poverty owing to detrimental social norms, and limited access to education, productive assets and resources.
It was all joy in August 2018 when I received an email that I had been selected as a United Nations Volunteer; I would be serving as a Public Information Officer with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The excitement was palpable!
I had been looking forward to working abroad and then out of the blue came this wonderful opportunity to volunteer in South Sudan – a nation with a chequered history, but with such huge potential. I didn’t expect it to be so sudden.
Immediately, I started reading about the country, the geopolitical nuances, and my role.
South Sudan has been at civil war since December 2013, claiming the lives of tens of thousands of civilians and forcing more than four million people to flee their homes. The United Nations hosts about 200,000 of those who have been displaced in Protection of Civilians sites across the country.
When I arrived in South Sudan in August 2017, I knew very little about the country, its people and culture. But I came with an open mind and absolute willingness to learn from the experience as I began my new role as a Child Protection Officer serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan in the Western Equatoria region.