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Published on May 1st, 2024

New Community Centers Help Citizens of South Sudan Support Peace and Reconciliation

It was a dream, and now it is our reality,” said Linda Ferdinand, Chairperson of the Wau Civil Engagement Center, at its recent inauguration in Wau County, Western Bahr el Gazal (WBG) State in South Sudan. Built and furnished by the USAID Shejeh Salam program, implemented by DT Global, this new center amplifies community voices, improves lives, and supports civil society education and engagement in the second-largest town in South Sudan.

At yet another inaugural event for a community center built and equipped by Shejeh Salam, the Commissioner of Kapoeta North County located in the Eastern Equatoria State of South Sudan said, “Our new community center is a vital tool to support advocacy, promote peace, and foster unity in our county.”

Years of war, political and social turmoil, and reoccurring waves of national and subnational violence have decimated South Sudanese civil society. USAID Shejeh Salam focuses on rebuilding communities suffering from conflict by forging trust between people from different communities and ethnic groups and lying the foundation for peace.

Community centers create space for dialogue

Community centers like these new multi-purpose facilities are helping local civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations bring communities together. The centers offer a haven that is conducive to peacebuilding, conflict mitigation, and skills training. They create a space for open dialogue on issues that matter to far-flung communities that still suffer scars and trauma from years of violence.

“I have a duty to our citizens. Access to information is key to our development. I will mobilize our community to come here and express themselves and talk openly about issues that affect us. We could not do so before this center existed,” said Pascale, a young citizen advocate and founder of Volunteer South Sudan, a local CSO working WBG State.

Citizen groups use the community centers to hold seminars, training workshops, and awareness-raising sessions that address important community-driven topics such as gender-based violence and human rights awareness events, micro-enterprise livelihood training sessions, peacebuilding and conflict mitigation dialogues, health and hygiene workshops, and online study for individuals utilizing the internet and business services on offer.

Dialogue and learning leads to action

A case in point is a local female market trader who attended a GBV awareness-raising workshop and then took it upon herself to rescue a woman in her village from an abusive marriage. Using educational and referral information gained at the Wau Civil Engagement Center, the entrepreneur helped her peer seek justice, resulting in eventual divorce and resettlement for the victim.

With its first national election scheduled to take place in December, South Sudan’s civil society is using its voice to break new barriers, openly discuss current affairs, and address issues that directly affect its communities.

“All of us here are peace ambassadors, and we shall work together to sustain peace in our county, " said one Kapoeta North Community Center’s management board member.

The Wau Civil Engagement Center and Kapoeta North Community Center, both recently handed over to local voluntary management committees, are well and truly positioned as platforms for dialogue and conflict mitigation in their respective regions. More than just buildings, they are the center of communities, playing a central role in amplifying the voices of South Sudanese citizens.