On World Humanitarian Day, we are speaking to Moses Abure, our Economic Empowerment Officer, based in Yei, South Sudan about what inspires his powerful work.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? You were part of Women for Women International’s program before and are rejoining us again. What inspired you to get involved with humanitarian work?
Moses Abure is my name, I am South Sudanese. My father was a soldier, he had six wives and 22 children. Soon after my mother gave birth to me, we lost my dad. As the first wife, my Mum was left with the sole responsibility all of the children after his death as his other wives left the family to re-marry.
I saw how my mother ended up supporting the family on her own – she was doing humanitarian work in our home. One day I thought – it’s just my mother doing all of this work, how many other women are doing the same? How many others are struggling like my Mum? She was not paid, she did everything voluntarily. I thought, I think I need to study and do something to support my community and copy what my mother is doing.
I was also encouraged by people outside my family who would say, "Ah, your mother is doing so well," when I told them whose son I was, people would say, "Your mother is great!" So in my head I was thinking, how can I be like my Mum – can I do something for our community so that they will appreciate me? That is what motivated me to get involved in humanitarian work. After finishing my studies I began working as a volunteer – there was an organisation that started in Yei called Volunteers for Economic Growth and Alliance.
They were doing some surveys and they looking for volunteers who had studied to do surveys, so I joined and started conducting interviews in the town. Doing that work really motivated me, I said OK, I need to do more. This is the starting point [of my career] and I can see now where I need to go.
What is the most rewarding aspect of doing this kind of humanitarian work?
First of all, I want to refer to Women for Women International's work. When we suspended our program in Yei [in 2016, when the security situation became too dangerous], you would still find participants coming in from villages. They didn’t even mind about waiting until the guns stopped – they kept coming to call on us and asking, how are you doing? That is so rewarding because it means your work counts.
Another rewarding thing is when you get positive feedback from resource providers, and new grants are approved because of the results of your work – especially when your work has to be monitored and visited by donors and we can show them the impact.
What is most rewarding is when women have finished their training, and they share testimonies and success stories that were made possible by the work we do with them, and we are able to maintain contact with them and see that progress. When I see women’s lives changing – that is the biggest reward. It is all about the women we serve.
Seeing and hearing the stories and challenges of the women and people you serve, how do you find the will to keep doing this work?
I believe in (the power of) the brain. There will always be challenges, but you can face them with personal determination and commitment. When things get difficult, I always try to have a positive mental attitude. You need to feel confident to be able to do this work. You can’t leave marginalized women suffering because of your own personal mental issues.
I would encourage all humanitarian workers to look after their mental health especially with issues like stress, loss of relatives, tribal disagreements – otherwise they will affect your ability to help others. When you are delivering services, you have to be neutral and have a positive attitude, so you can serve people with dignity and humanity.
What is the most difficult part of doing humanitarian work?
Thank you for asking this question! In everything you do, there are difficult parts. There are things you can do, and other things you cannot do. So you have to learn to let it go. Especially when it comes to security. When it comes to exposure to security risks, humanitarian workers may pay the ultimate price – loss of life – while delivering work.
This is one of the most difficult aspects of the job, especially in the context of South Sudan. Part of the problem here is tribalism – although we are all South Sudanese, our country has around 64 different tribes and there is often conflict along tribal lines, so this increases the exposure to security risks. If I am called to work in Upper Nile or other parts where there is a lot of tribalism – and this is something I have done in my lifetime – it can be very risky.
Tribalism is what has cost most loss of life. Then there is the road conditions. You know, in South Sudan, the conditions of our roads in many parts are not OK! And many humanitarian workers are abducted while they are travelling to provide services. Some of our own staff were kidnapped, but fortunately they were released. Robbery is rampant, and humanitarian workers are often targeted.
It has become worse because of inflation and the economic crisis. Humanitarian workers are targeted because the robbers think, these people are earning money, so they turn up at your door. So that is one of the difficult parts of doing humanitarian work here.
The conditions in the field, outside Yei, are challenging – you have mosquitoes, mud, and lack of shelters. But this is when you always have to put the women we serve first.
What do you hope to see from the program in the future?
When the situation improves, I would like to be able to offer the full 12-month program again. We will adapt according to the context. I would particularly like to incorporate vocational training – which was omitted from the 6-month program - we hear from communities that it is a real need. I would also like to see us strengthen our Men’s Engagement Program – men are traumatized, they are returning to their homes after causing trouble, they might have killed many people, and now they are rejoining their families and returning to their wives. We need to address their trauma and conflict resolution should be part of the men’s engagement training.
What change do you hope to see in the community because of the Women for Women International program?
I would like to see the community advocating for issues that are affecting them. I would love to hear women speaking up, this will help to change cultural norms. It is no good if they stay silent and shy! And I want to see men supporting them too - men and women need to work together to improve the lives of their families.
I want to see women who have completed our training being role models and champions for other women.
A version of this blog was first published on Thomson Reuters Foundation on August 19, 2019.