I am Achomo Mary Buyu, a member of Equatoria Women Association (EWA) in South Sudan. EWA is an organization for local women – it is an indigenous, non-governmental and nonprofit making association that seeks to promote human rights with a focus on women’s rights and participation in governance, access to information on basic services, gender-related issues, food security and improved livelihood in the community.
Before joining TFT, I was not consciously absorbing some of the things around me. My sense of respecting human rights was greatly influenced by learning about transformational leadership. Since then, I became a women’s rights activist.
Returning Home To Unexpected Crisis
After attending TFT Diploma course in 2016/2017, I went back to South Sudan to find some of my family members and my colleagues left the country to live in refugee camps. For about four months, I did not know where to start from when I was also hiding in the forest saving my life. The energy and the skills I got from TFT sharpened my conscious and made me to realize that there are opportunities to begin something in the bush with women while waiting for peace. I started to mobilize, organize, and engage local women in my community, then I formed a women’s group. We started growing vegetables with the support of a woman who had taken seeds with her when she escaped to the bush. We produced and sold some of the vegetables then we purchased more seeds and sold the products in the market to some of the families who did not run to the bush. The income was distributed amongst us for starting a small business that supported our weekly Village Saving and Loan Association (VSLA). This is a method of nurturing a culture of saving money to enable us raising capital to initiate and improve the income-generating activities and loans offers.
After the peace agreement for South Sudan was signed, we continued other programs that have also been integrated into the group’s activities. With help from EWA we continued promoting awareness on environmental conservation, education on reproductive health issues (reusable sanitary pads making), knitting, tie and dye and gender-based violence prevention as well as other cross-cutting issues of HIV/AIDS. I started training these women in modern methods of agriculture and construction of fuel-efficient stoves. These activities helped to reduce women’s economic dependency on their husbands.
Lack of resources is a major challenge. It stops me from planning regular workshops in advance, also it affects supporting women with counselling as a safe space is needed for that. It is also difficult to find a co-facilitator who volunteers to support in facilitation. Furthermore, in a war – torn country it is challenging to meet our fundamental needs as facilitators without employment and with our families torn apart.
The Impact of Covid-19
During a safety audit meeting with women from different communities, women shared a lot of Gender Based Violence issues that affects them during the COVID – 19 Epidemic. The pandemic has increased the exposure of girls and women to harassment, sexual violence and physical fighting within the home. Schools were closed and teenage pregnancy and early marriages increased.
No social gatherings mean that communal cultivation activities are not allowed and will leave many in severe hunger – especially since prices in the market have increased so much that vulnerable people cannot afford groceries. By using the radio as a platform, we informed women where to get help if they were affected by gender based violence.
As an activist, I will continue facilitating workshops using TFT methodology and find solutions as part of the abuse awareness campaign. I am grateful to work with the women to build a better future that will serve the common good of all that are in pain.
Training for Transformation has enabled me to realize that I am not an empty tin in the bush, but a person with potential and ability to stand in the gap. TFT is not all about the certificate, but it is incompatible skills space, much more than what other institutions can offer. It makes you think practically and have the momentum to achieve great things in a particular field. During the course, I came across so many practical training ideas that are useful in shaping my war-torn community life. I learned different skills from the diverse participants whom I lived with in the same house. I learned many cooking skills which I am right now using to support the women in the income generation activities.