Sunday, 14 December 2014

One year on - the conflict in December, 2013

If a big earthquake occurred today, and 4.5 million people in Melbourne suddenly found themselves without access to transport, shelter, food or water, who would know where to go or where to seek help?

With nowhere to charge phones or access the internet, how would people find their friends and family?

This is the situation many people in post-conflict countries experience.

One year on, I wanted to share my experience in South Sudan as it once again descended into conflict.

Like an earthquake, the violence caught many people in South Sudan off guard and the gunfire quickly grew into conflicts across South Sudan, leaving over 2 million people displaced.

David and I were both there in the capital of South Sudan, Juba on that very day when it happened - twelve months ago today on 15th December, 2013. We were there to continue working on the Children's Centre project as well as conducting some research for micro-enterprise idea.

Early in the morning the gunfire from the barracks upset neighbours, killed a number of civilians and by 6am, and the military in the barracks started to fight with each other.

In a post-conflict country like South Sudan once again descending into a state of conflict, people immediately started to bring their own agenda on the table. What started the conflict? Was it tribal? Was it food deprivation? Was it oil? Was it a cattle raid? Or was it just a result of polygamy, women fighting over husband's attention?

We don't know.

What we do know though, at least from the media, is that it was pre-planned - however, as civilians, we didn't know anything until we heard the gunfire. Even then, who could be prepared for one incident of gunfire turning South Sudan once again into a country in conflict, on the brink of war?

Conflicts upset humans. Conflicts cause uncertainty and make people do things they wouldn't do in peace. We cannot just frame these in a box to say people are so violent just because they grow up in war.

Four days before the conflict, on 11th December, 2013, I had a very peaceful chat over great lunch with my South Sudanese friends who welcomed me as if I grew up there.  "Welcome home," as Archangelo says - I was really touched by the warmth.

On the next day, as we were looking for a car to rent to drive to our destination of Turalei in Warrap State, we went to River Nile. It appeared to me to be a peaceful river. David and his cousin Bol told me a horrific story of when they had to swim across this river, braving its speedy current, back in the 1990s when they were fleeing the war from Sudan to Ethiopia. Vivid memory over Ethiopian coffee.

And of course, as a Japanese, I was happy to find my home here in a local supermarket....

Having met a few Japanese people here, I was glad to learn about 400 Japanese people working in this wonderland South Sudan.

As we found a car to drive to Turalei on the 14th, we stayed another night in Juba. Thanks to David's network, our accommodation was provided by the wife of the Former Vice President, Dr Riak Machar.

On the 15th December, I woke up to an SMS from my friend, warning me to stay inside no matter what. I went down to ask David what happened. We stayed quiet and kept listening to the radio the whole day.

We heard gun shots here and there - something that shouldn't happen was happening.

David and the accommodattion's security guard started to do something with the number plate of a car.

They were removing the number plate. We were in the Central Equatria State, where the majority of Dinka live.

The car's number plate was from SSUS - "South Sudan Unity State" - indicating that this car belongs to those of Nuer - as majority of Nuer live in Unity State.

Aware that the growing conflict could cause divisions along tribal lines, David wisely thought that the car with this number plate would mean that people in this accommodation, including us, would be questioned with guns when the army comes and we would be in danger.

Long story short - I moved to a hotel nearby. The Japanese government arranged a charter flight five days later.

I had to leave. Unlike the two million displaced South Sudanese people, I was lucky to have a safe place to go back to. I wanted to stay, but there was literally nothing I could do, and if I stayed back, I would have been a burden. The current conflict was something beyond the capacity of Peace Palette.

Mission unaccomplished, I saw the reality of what peace building means, and perhaps the scale and depth of it.

Peace Palette was co-founded by David and myself in the hope that we could bring peace and sustain stronger, resilient, and harmonious communities across the world. Starting our work in South Sudan, after conducting a needs assessment we have built a children's centre and community garden thanks to many organisations and individuals' support, enabling better access to education and food sufficiency.

What we have been doing is one stepping stone to building peace.
Peace is secondary when basic needs are not met. When you don't have bread for tomorrow, you have something else to worry about other than peace. Why talk about peace when we don't even have clothes and food to celebrate New Year?

That's why Peace Palette is trying to re-build a new children's centre in a new location that will not be affected by seasonal floods so that we can make sure children in the centre have a refuge, and can eventually "graduate" to contribute back to the society.

A family reunification program is in our vision for next year, to make sure that children are not institutionalised in the centre, as we believe children should grow in a family environment. To do this, we are going to support women in the community to start micro-enterprise, as women with stable income can look after children in a family environment.

Our vision for Nhomlau Children's Centre is that it will provide a half-way home or, multi-purpose centre for children to have health checks and to attend temporary education classes. We will then make referrals to local schools. We also envision providing computer classes, a playground, and other things that will engage people in the community to come together.

We also are going to build a community garden for better food sufficiency and income generation.

Peace Palette takes an asset-based approach - we work with people on the ground using their existing skills to best resolve their challenges. We believe that's when people have true ownership of what they do, and are able to believe in their own ability to promote and build peace within their communities.  

We hope you will continue to be part of our journey next year.

Best Wishes,
Aya Ono, Peace Palette Co-Founder

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Saturday, 15 November 2014

Magic in South Sudan

Fairytales often start with; once upon a time in land far away..... 

I shall start my tale on this note as I descend upon the magical land that is South Sudan flying in the giant metallic man made bird of sky. 

When anticipation, expectations  and fear of the unknown come together its as if the heart forgets the correct rhythm with which to beat, the lungs cease to work in unison with the diaphragm to create proper breathing patterns and certain muscles tense up as if too afraid of where the body will take it if allowed. 

The unknown can be frightening but once you open your eyes, mind and heart you see beauty in the places you least expect and perhaps are never the same again. 

Driving around Juba the first day I was confronted by a new world, one which at first glanced felt chaotic; no roads, traffic lights, plumbing or electricity system. The things I believed to be essential to survival. 
I saw more guns in my first two hours than I had in the entirety my life, and within hours was reduced to tears at the deprivation and poverty I saw around. 
My stomach grumbled as I had merely poked around at the Tilapia fish I had ordered for lunch, whilst processing the big issues of the day I also had to process the idea of fish being stewed with carrots and tomato paste and my brain was not on board with any of it.
I lay my head to rest that night in an internal dialogue with myself. Had I bitten off more than I could chew? If all these people can live here then why cant I? The banter continued like a cartoon angel and devil on either side of my shoulder, debating whether or not I was entitled to the culture shock I was experiencing. I fell asleep before either side won.  
Then the magic started to happen. 
First I went to someone's house. I sat in a house made of sticks and was surrounded by so much warmth, so welcome I had to stop and think if I was their long lost child and hadn't realised until that moment. 

I helped cook and even with a communication barrier there was laughter. My next adventure was going to a market, at first glance I felt they not deserve the joy of an air-conditioned mall with escalators, a food court, and more clothing stores than you could throw a stick at. As I thought about this I stepped in some human waste, Chadstone was looking pretty good about then.  
But then again the magic, I saw what it looked like to have people spend very hard earned money on essentials. No Apple Store, no fresh apples for that matter, just hard-working, determined, resilient people getting beans to sustain their family for the next month. Suddenly Chaddy seemed a bit senseless.  
I went on to encounter many different people, men sitting outside shops in the morning drinking tea and laughing, girls giggling as they searched for drinking water in their scruffy clothes, women carting produce back and forth on their backs to feed their families. 
I was in awe. I was hypnotised and something in me changed which will never be the same again. It was reaffirmed to me that are all born into different lives, in different places under different circumstances. And we do the best we can with what we are given.

People who have the least are often the happiest, I saw that, I saw joy amongst deprivation, laughter alongside suffering and I was humbled but realised things don't have to be that way for some while others have an over- abundance. 
Children deserve to go to school, to eat, to have shelter. The beautiful people I met deserve safety, stability, peace and human rights. 

That's why I am proud of the work Peace Palette in South Sudan and to be able to help where I can. In this life I was given more, so I am able to do more, as we all are, so we must.

Peace Palette Volunteer, Chenai Mupotsa

PS, Going to the dinner event would also be a good way to support Peace Palette.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

How we crowd-funded $7,000 in 2 months

For a small non-profit like Peace Palette, raising funds is always a challenge.

We have the vision, the people, the plans and the energy to make a world of difference for the people of South Sudan, but how do we fund it? Or more importantly, how do we connect the people who want to help to our work.

It’s never easy, but there have been some innovations in fundraising in recent years that have helped smaller organisations like ours. And recently, we gave one of them a go — crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding has been really popular in recent years in generating funds for art projects. Musicians and authors have been able to raise their own funds for their work, rather than relying on corporations to fund them. And the key part of this are the perks. For an art project, you can create incentives for different donation levels — a copy of the book for $50; a ticket to the launch event for $100; and in some cases, people have been able to be a character in the story for a large donation!

So how can we apply this model to charity fundraising?

We weren't exactly sure, but we gave it a go anyway!

We knew that we had to connect people not to Peace Palette, but to the actual work. So we broke it down, made it tangible, and framed it around the plan to buy a maize grinder and use it not only to make food, but to generate funds for the Nhomlau Children’s Centre. Aya's friend, Ian Jones came up with the wonderful name — an aMaizing Social Enterprise.

We had to choose a platform. I had met with Prashan, the founder of and he had overseen some great successes with similar organisations. And it was important to us that 100% of the donation goes to Peace Palette. Each donor could choose to add an additional amount to support

 Next was coming up with the perks. We made a list of what we could provide to incentivise each amount, and built it into the site. People always surprise you, and we were surprised by what people were interested in, and what they weren’t. For example, higher priced items such as writing of donors’ names the motorbike (a part of the social enterprise plan) were so popular, we managed to find room for extras!
 The final and most important step was of course promotion. Without promotion, it wouldn't have raised any money at all. So we emailed all of Peace Palette’s contacts, all our personal contacts, promoted it like crazy on social media, included it in newsletters etc etc. And sure enough (thankfully) it began to take off. People obviously connected with the really tangible outcomes of this appeal.
 We set out target at $8000, and while we didn’t quite get there ($7130) it was still a fantastic result for Peace Palette and will go a long way to creating a sustainable, income generating social enterprise at the Nhomlau Children’s Centre.
Once the rainy season is over, we will finally purchase the item to get an aMaizing social enterprise off the ground.

Charlie Syme
Peace Palette volunteer committee member.