Messages from Mahad – Using the airwaves to connect with family and friends in South Sudan

A radio program in South Sudan helps displaced people communicate with their community and send messages to their loved ones.

Riak Akech in Juba, South Sudan wakes up to the sound of the muezzin call to prayer for all Muslims. She’s a Christian, but uses the call as an alarm clock in her small tukul (hut) that she shares with her aunt and younger cousin. The tukul is constructed of bamboo and plastic sheets with a UN agency logo imprinted on it.

Akech, 19, lives in Mahad, an informal settlement of nearly 3,000 displaced South Sudanese coming from Jonglei state, an area marred by conflict. Akech steps out at dawn with a bucket in hand to retrieve water from Mahad’s reservoir.

Mahad is located in an Islamic primary school in the heart of Juba. There are far fewer interventions from humanitarians than in other formal IDP (internally displaced persons) sites or Protection of Civilian areas, but, as in those settlements, there is a dire need for information.

Internews’ Boda Boda Talk Talk team developed an audio program — My Mahad — to help the community meet its information needs.

Internews taught Akech, along with other young people at the camp, how to record audio and conduct interviews in the community for My Mahad. She learned so fast that by the end of the first week, an audio program was ready to air for Mahad residents. It featured Nur Kur Nyang, the school administrator, and others in the community talking about the history of settlement at Mahad.

Riak Akech learned some journalism skills to make radio

“I liked doing the radio program because it made me feel like a journalist,” Akech says. “I would like to learn more about journalism.”

The program covers issues like security, sanitation, education and health awareness. It is broadcast in all of the community’s three traditional languages — Dinka, Anyuak and Murle, as well as the two national language — Arabic and English.

“There are many things I don’t know,” says Akech. “By talking to my elders at Mahad, I can learn so much more.” My Mahad also gives Akech a chance to share the voices from her community with others, including aid providers. “It helps people by letting them talk about the issues they face.”

Mahad teens listen to My Mahad

Each group at Mahad — Dinka, Anyuak and Murle, received a wind-up, solar-powered radio. One was also given to the child-friendly space at the camp to play for kids, all eager to listen to My Mahad.

Each episode of My Mahad was loaded on to SD cards — the cards with all the up-to-date episodes stay with each radio, so they could be played continuously until the next episode was finished, then it would be uploaded to each card.

Messages from Mahad

17-year-old Mahad resident Sandy Riak comes from Bor. She wants to become a doctor, so she can help people by providing health care to those who need it most.

“Those in Bor, Jonglei state. God bless you. I want to join you. I’m greeting you my friends. I miss you my family,” Sandy Riak said in her first message from Mahad, recorded last July.

This message to family and friends in Bor gave Internews the idea to turn its work at Mahad from providing My Mahad, a humanitarian information audio program, into a radio service — called Messages from Mahad — sending messages to loved ones in hopes to reunify families.

Riak interviewing Akoi

Akech carries the audio recorder with her every day in Mahad. Displaced residents ask her to stop and record their messages for lost family members, hoping they will hear it and be reunited someday.

“The majority of people living at Mahad don’t have access to mobile phones or radios,” Akech said. “The main way people in Mahad receive information is by word of mouth.”

“It is important to talk about peace in our community. We all need to teach our children about the importance of peace. If we are to have real peace, we must begin with children,” Sandy Riak said in her latest message from Mahad.

“I am in Mahad. I come from Bor. The fighting happened 24 December 2013 while I was there,” 12-year-old Akoi Mayen Kur said in his first message to family and friends. “We want to join our hands for peace. We are one nation and one people. We miss our home.”

“People ask to hear their voices once I’ve recorded them, so I play it back. It makes them smile. Children laugh,” Akech said.

Messages from Mahad is aired every Saturday and Sunday on Mingkaman 100 FM. A new radio mast at Mingkaman 100 FM means its broadcasts reach from Lakes state across the Nile River deep into Jonglei state.

A Murle family from Pibor, an administrative area located within Jonglei state of South Sudan, listens to My Mahad

Mahad is almost entirely made up of women and children. Of the estimated 3,000 internally displaced people living here, over half are kids.

The youth in Mahad don’t have access to school. Only a lucky few are attending afternoon classes outside of the community. Most youth are left idle in Mahad with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

As well as her radio work, Akech also works for Terre des Hommes, a non-governmental organization providing psychosocial support for the children in Mahad. This includes providing a Child Friendly Space, where kids living at Mahad are able to play games and learn in a safe and secure environment.

The children greet her as “teacher,” a title reserved only for those local youth trust.

“I’m happy that the kids respect me. I teach them not to get in trouble,” Akech said.

She’s not your typical teacher, as she hasn’t even finished primary school. But Akech has volunteered her time to work at Mahad’s Child Friendly Space, teaching the youth the value of education and letting them help out with the radio program.

“I enjoy spending time with the children,” Akech said. “I lived in [Kenya’s] Kakuma refugee camp until 2003, so I know how important it is to help young people living in this situation.”

Published online @ Medium

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Mingkaman Young Reporters: South Sudanese Youth Media Training for Local Change

Mingkaman's new Young Reporters head into Site Two to do some reporting.

MINGKAMAN, South Sudan – Twelve Mingkaman residents, ranging in age from 17-years-old to 43-years-young, came together for a three-week Internews South Sudan Young Reporters training.

All came to learn the basics of radio and photography at Mingkaman 100 FM in January 2016. This is a follow-up to the first South Sudan Young Reporters training last April in Malakal.

Sixteen South Sudanese youth living in the Malakal United Nations Protection-of-Civilians site were trained multimedia skills by Internews. Following the training, many found work at various aid agencies in Malakal’s humanitarian hub.

“This training is about learning. I want to learn how to make radio and take nice photographs,” said 22-year-old aspiring journalist, James Machok.

Mingkaman 100 FM is a pillar in the community. It’s the only source of news and information from Lakes to Jonglei state, across the Nile River. Its broadcasts reach some of the most remote communities on both sides of the Nile in South Sudan.

The Dec. 15, 2013 crisis reached Bor, capital of Jonglei state, a few days after fighting broke out in Juba. Bor residents fled the violence and arrived, by boat, to Mingkaman, Lakes state, at the time a village known for its relative calm and security.

A host community of Bahr el Ghazal Dinka in Awerial County welcomed Bor Dinka from Bor County, Jonglei state.

Nearly 70,000 displaced people arrived by January 2014, causing a humanitarian emergency. International aid agencies flocked to Mingkaman from Juba, trying to provide basic necessities for IDPs setting up temporary shelters all over Awerial County.

Internews set up Mingkaman 100 FM, an information lifeline for the community.

The village of Mingkaman soon became a restive town, where host community began to blame displaced people, or IDPs, for the lack of opportunity. This tension led to communal violence, as clashes over land and cattle happened with alarming frequency.

Last September, youth from host community protested outside the gates of Mingkaman’s humanitarian hub. They were demanding job opportunities from aid agencies, claiming IDP youth were being hired over them despite equal qualifications.

Mingkaman 100 FM became the target of their frustration. A dozen youth stormed the gates and pushed their way into the radio station, assaulting staff before realizing the error. Youth soon apologized, on-air, for their actions.

20-year-old Josephine Yar was born-and-raised in Awerial County. She is an outreach worker with ACTED, Mingkaman’s camp management agency.

“I remember when Mingkaman was a small village. Now it’s grown so much. I think it’s become one of the biggest towns in the country,” Yar said. “I hope all youth can put aside differences and work together to develop it further.”

Mingkaman now rivals Bor as one of the biggest towns in the region. It has a 130 km road network connecting it to the capital, Juba. There are markets, banks, and community centres, not to mention a thriving cultural scene including traditional music, dance and sport.

“Will we receive a sitting allowance?” Emmanuel Gai asked the first day of training. I informed all youth that this was no traditional training, like those provided by aid agencies in the past.

This would help develop their media skillset and make them more employable as a result. All twelve stuck around and learned to record radio and take photographs.

Young Reporters camera training

Mingkaman Young Reporters learn to use cameras.

“I want to learn more. This training taught us the basics of radio and visual storytelling,” said 22-year-old Mingkaman Young Reporter Isaiah Anguat.

To accommodate Mingkaman’s new Young Reporters, Mingkaman 100 FM will launch a weekly radio program in February, called Young Reporters.

The radio program will contain a mix of interviews, vox pops and live, on-air, presentation, with the help of Mingkaman 100 FM’s journalism trainer, to help improve skills further.

I know it’s a cliché to say, but I’m confident it will give voice to the voiceless youth. It seems the Mingkaman Young Reporters have a lot to share with the community.

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Sri Lanka’s War Widows and the Road to Reconciliation

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The civil war lasted 26 years. It cost the lives of an estimated 100,000 people and devastated the north and east of the island nation. In 2009, the government in Colombo made one last push against the Tamil Tigers rebel group.

The United Nations accuses both sides in the conflict of perpetrating war crimes, killing innocent civilians inside safe zones. This is the story of war widows and how the new government in Colombo seeks to make national reconciliation a priority.

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‘Sudanista!’: A Non-Fiction Reading list for The Sudans

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Without a doubt, Emma’s War by Deborah Scroggins is the most fascinating, easy-to-read, book about The Sudans.

Emma’s War: Love, Betrayal and Death in the Sudan by Deborah Scroggins

The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars (African Issues) by Douglas H. Johnson

South Sudan From Revolution to Independence by Matthew Arnold and Matthew LeRiche

The Fate of Sudan: The Origins and Consequences of a Flawed Peace Process by John Young

Sudan: Race, Religion, and Violence by Jok Madut Jok

A Poisonous Thorn in Our Hearts: Sudan’s Bitter and Incomplete Divorce by James Copnall

The New Kings of Crude: China and India’s Global Struggle for Oil in Sudan by Luke Patey

South Sudan: A Slow Liberation by Edward Thomas

Sudan, South Sudan, and Darfur by Andrew S. Natsios

What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng by Dave Eggers.

Honourable mention goes to two novels which read like non-fiction; Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo; Seasons of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih. War of Visions by Francis M. Deng is an academic look at ethnic division in The Sudans, but a thought-provoking read nonetheless.

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South Sudan: Messages from Mahad – Juba IDPs use radio for family reunification

Riak Akech MfM

JUBA, South Sudan – Riak Akech wakes up to the sound of the muezzin call to prayer for all Muslims. She’s a Christian, but uses the call as an alarm clock in her small tukul, or hut, which she shares with her aunt and younger cousin. It’s constructed of bamboo and plastic sheets with a UN agency logo imprinted on it.

Akech, 19, lives in Mahad, a settlement of nearly 3,000 displaced South Sudanese coming from restive Jonglei state. Akech steps out at dawn with a bucket in hand to retrieve water from Mahad’s reservoir. Three shirtless children greet her as “teacher,” a title reserved for only those local youth trust.

“I’m happy that the kids respect me. I teach them not to get in trouble,” Akech said.

She’s not your typical teacher, as she hasn’t even finished primary school. But Akech has volunteered her time to work at Mahad’s child friendly space, teaching the youth the value of education.

“I enjoy spending time with the children,” Akech said. “I lived in [Kenya’s] Kakuma refugee camp until 2003, so I know how important it is to help young people living in this situation.”

If a child is sick in Mahad, and the mother can’t communicate in English or Arabic, Akech accompanies the family to the hospital and speaks to medical staff on her behalf. Akech speaks English, Arabic, Dinka and even some Murle.

Most people settled at Mahad, the Dinka, Anuak and Murle ethnic groups, come from different parts of multiethnic Jonglei. All are living in close proximity, on a small plot of land surrounding an Islamic primary school.

The school administrator, Nur Kur Nyang, originally allowed displaced people (IDPs) fleeing the December 2013 violence in Jonglei, to settle here. But word soon spread. South Sudanese from as far north as Upper Nile state started to arrive, surviving a perilous journey south along the Nile River.

Two years ago, a conflict between South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, and his former deputy, Riak Machar, set off an ethnic killing spree in the capital Juba. The presidential guards, mainly from the Dinka ethnic group, turned against those from the Nuer ethnic group, said to be protecting Machar. This violence quickly spread to state capitals Bor, Malakal and Bentiu.

Mahad teens listen to My Mahad

Sandy Riak and her friend listening to the messages on the child-friendly space’s Freeplay radio.

In early 2014, Internews set up a humanitarian information service called Boda Boda Talk Talk at the UN base in Juba, as well as a radio station in Mingkaman, Lakes state, where 100,000 IDPs arrived fleeing the conflict in Bor. Mingkaman 100 FM is a community radio station that now serves the wider region of eastern Lakes and western Jonglei states, providing not only humanitarian information but a wide range of news and current events programs.

17-year-old Mahad resident Sandy Riak comes from Bor. She wants to become a doctor, so she can help people by providing health care to those who need it most.

“Those in Bor, Jonglei state. God bless you. I want to join you. I’m greeting you my friends. I miss you my family,” Sandy Riak said in her first message from Mahad, recorded last July.

This message to family and friends in Bor gave Internews the idea to turn its work at Mahad from providing humanitarian information audio programs, a lifestyle series called My Mahad, into a radio service sending messages to loved ones in hopes to reunify families.

“The majority of people living at Mahad don’t have access to mobile phones or radios,” Akech said. “The main way people in Mahad receive information is by word of mouth.”

Akech was trained last June by Internews journalism trainer Adam Bemma on how to use an audio recorder and to interview Mahad residents. This led to six episodes of My Mahad being recorded in the community and aired, via SD card, to women and children on four Freeplay radios.

One wind-up, solar-powered, radio was given to each community leader in Mahad (Dinka, Anuak and Murle) including one for the children at the child friendly space.

“It is important to talk about peace in our community. We all need to teach our children about the importance of peace. If we are to have real peace, we must begin with children,” Sandy Riak said in her latest message from Mahad.

Messages from Mahad continues where My Mahad left off. It’s being aired every Saturday and Sunday on Mingkaman 100 FM. A new radio mast at Mingkaman 100 FM means its broadcasts reach from Lakes state across the Nile River deep into Jonglei state.

Riak interviewing Akoi

Riak Akech recording Akoi Mayen Kur’s message from Mahad to loved ones in Bor.

“I am in Mahad. I come from Bor. The fighting happened 24 December 2013 while I was there,” 12-year-old Akoi Mayen Kur said in his first message to family and friends. “We want to join our hands for peace. We are one nation and one people. We miss our home.”

Akech carries the audio recorder with her every day in Mahad. Displaced residents ask her to stop and record their messages for lost family members, hoping they will hear it and be reunited some day.

“People ask to hear their voices once I’ve recorded them, so I play it back. It makes them smile. Children laugh,” Akech said.

*Messages from Mahad began to air on Mingkaman 100 FM in November 2015. It aims to reunite families, via radio messaging, from Lakes and Jonglei states displaced by violence in South Sudan.

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South Sudan: Healthy Living – How a Mental Health Radio Show Can Help Displaced People

Ayada Machok Kuerich is host of Healthy Living on Mingkaman 100 FM.

MINGKAMAN, South Sudan – “Thanks for tuning in. This is Healthy Living. I’m your host Ayada Machok Kuerich. This program focuses on mental health awareness. Stay tuned to Mingkaman 100 FM.”

On December 15, 2013, President Salva Kiir’s guards attacked former Vice President Riak Machar’s in the capital Juba claiming he was plotting to overthrow the government.

This ethnic conflict, pitting Kiir’s Dinka against Machar’s Nuer, quickly spread to Bor, Jonglei state, and other state capitals with key military outposts throughout the country.

The violence in Bor caused thousands of traumatized civilians to flee into the United Nations base, located outside of Bor town, and across the Nile River to Mingkaman, Lakes state.

This created a humanitarian crisis, as aid agencies helped meet the needs of these internally displaced people, or IDPs.

The UN’s International Organization for Migration, provides humanitarian assistance to displaced South Sudanese. One of its most popular programs focuses on mental health awareness.

IOM provides mental health and psychosocial support services at the UN protection-of-civilians site in Bor. Pauline Birot is IOM program manager in Bor and Bentiu.

“Creating mental health awareness is crucial in South Sudan. For instance, there is still much work to be done regarding stigmatization,” Birot said. “We need to get the conversation going on these issues. People have gone through a lot and are still dealing with much emotional distress.”

The population of Mingkaman ballooned to nearly 100,000 in 2014. The town is located 130 kms north of Juba. Mingkaman 100 FM was set up by Internews to meet the information needs of the town’s residents.

Aduk Chuol is a 22-year-old living displaced from her home in Duk County, Jonglei state. She lives in Mingkaman Site two.

Last October, Mingkaman 100 FM launched a mental health radio program called Healthy Living. This is the first of its kind on the airwaves in South Sudan.

“Welcome back to Healthy Living on Mingkaman 100 FM. I’m your host Ayada Machok Kuerich. Today, I want to explain where people can go to receive mental health treatment. Stay tuned.”

In South Sudan, radio is the most trusted source for news and information. With one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, the only true way to reach the majority of South Sudanese is via the public airwaves.

“Radio is a great media to work with because it can reach so many people.” Birot said. “It can help to address the stigma linked to mental disorders and provide information about how to care for oneself, one’s family members and one’s community as a whole.”

International Medical Corps, or IMC, is a U.S.-based humanitarian organization operating two health clinics for residents of Mingkaman. It has trained staff to conduct mental health check-ups.

Aduk Chuol is a 22-year-old living in Mingkaman site two. She comes from Duk County in Jonglei state. Chuol was displaced from her home and family back in 2013.

“My living situation stresses me. I live alone. My family is in Nimule [Eastern Equatoria state next to the border of Uganda],” Chuol said. “I can learn about how to deal with stress from the radio.”

Last week, Chuol was walking home from the Health Link clinic at Mingkaman market, where she works as a cook, and she spotted an elder in her community who was visibly intoxicated.

Chuol walks home from work to site two

Chuol walks home from Mingkaman market to Site two every day. Along the way, she sees elders suffering from mental illness.

“Mental illness is a problem in our community. I know this man drinks alchohol and is addicted to drugs. I heard on the radio where to go for mental health services, so I asked him to visit the IMC clinic,” Chuol said. “The man refused, but I will keep trying to help him.”

Chuol is now a regular listener to Mingkaman 100 FM’s Healthy Living program. She enjoys hearing her favourite host, Ayada, discuss the causes of stress and trauma. Chuol also finds it useful to know where to go to seek psychosocial support and mental health counselling.

“That brings us to the end of Healthy Living. Tune in every Thursday at 9 p.m. to Mingkaman 100 FM as I raise awareness about mental health in the community. As Bob Marley once sang: ‘Don’t worry, ‘bout a thing. ‘Cause every little thing, gonna be alright.’ Thanks for listening.”

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South Sudan’s ‘Rising Stars’ of Loreto Girls Secondary School Journalism Club

Mary Jukudu interviews Loreto deputy principal, Nelson Kiarie.

Loreto journalism club member, Mary Jukudu, interviews the school’s deputy principal.

RUMBEK, South Sudan – It’s 8 a.m. Monday morning at Loreto Girls Secondary School, 10 kilometres north of the violence prone capital of Lakes state. The girls line up in four straight rows for their weekly assembly.

Two students march toward the flagpole and unfurl the South Sudan horizontal tricolor flag of black, red and green. They begin to sing the national anthem in unison. Some put a hand over their heart.

Loreto student Mary Jukudu holds an audio recorder in one hand with a pair of headphones covering her ears. She has a look of determination as she presses the record button.

The national anthem ends. Jukudu approaches Deputy Principal Nelson Kiarie.

“I’m here to ask you a few questions. My first question is about the journalism club at Loreto. How do you feel about it?”

Kiarie looks surprised. This interview is the result of a weekend of oral storytelling and radio journalism training conducted by Internews.

“I think it’s a very good idea that young people like you have an opportunity to express themselves,” Kiarie said. “This is where we get leaders. You learn how to communicate with the public.”

Jukudu thanked Kairie for the interview and moved along to Samuel Gitau, known as Loreto’s disciplinarian.

“Why do all students fear you?” she asked playfully. The assembly of students and teachers laughed and applauded her audacity.

Last year, Loreto student Aruai Kedit founded the journalism club. In 12 months, it has grown to include more than 50 students and is now one of the school’s largest clubs.

Members write stories ranging from early childhood marriage to the need for girl child education to inter-communal violence among Dinka clans in Rumbek. It will all soon be published in the school’s forthcoming magazine, aptly titled Rising Stars.

“It makes me happy to see other girls want to be journalists. I trained them how to edit their stories,” Kedit said.

Candacia Greeman is a teacher at Loreto Girls Secondary School. She supports the journalism club and wants to see these girls become confident young women.

“I believe that journalism allows youth, especially girls, to give voice to issues that concern them. It also builds their self-confidence and their ability to eloquently present an idea or story, “ she said.

Greeman invited Internews multimedia journalism trainer Adam Bemma to work with the club after a few members expressed their interest in learning practical skills in radio journalism.

She hopes this three-day Internews training will help students learn how to eventually produce a radio science program specific to life in South Sudan, featuring Loreto’s primary school science club.

“The students have reported that they now understand how to conduct an interview. They are also aware of the ethics involved in journalism and the types of personal qualities they would need to develop to be effective journalists,” Greeman said.

Founding members of the Loreto journalism club.

Four of the Loreto journalism club’s most active members. All are aspiring journalists.

Plans for the Loreto journalism club, or “J-club,” to begin producing multimedia content, from audio to photos to online stories, began with this training. Members feel confident in their ability to tell stories and to share them digitally across multiple platforms.

“When Ms. Candacia said a journalist named Adam Bemma was coming to teach us something about journalism. I was like ‘let him come and we’ll see what he can teach us,’” Kedit said. “I’m very happy, I’ve learned many things. I hope he will come back again and teach us more.”

*Loreto J-club will soon begin its radio science program, and hopes to continue recording traditional and contemporary stories from elders and youth in-and-around Rumbek. All radio content created will be shared with Mingkaman 100 FM, also based in Lakes state, South Sudan.

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#Myanmar: Snapshots of Burma. A pick-up game of chinlone, or caneball, in Pyin Oo Lwin. Players use a rattan ball and are only allowed to use their feet, knee, chest and head.
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