Alith is the Director of External Relations at Starford International University and the author of “The Cry of the South Sudanese Children” and “The Battle Within Me”.
Alith is an Alumnus for The British Council -Active Citizens -Social Enterprise, and she also works for different organizations as a communication and mobilization officer.
Alith Cyer Mayar, a 23-year-old South Sudanese writer, poet, and founder of WWF (a youth-led writing collective based in Juba) co-led the workshops, exploring how stories can provide powerful counter-narratives while looking at different writing techniques to achieve this.
“There is something that defines me more than just being a South Sudanese,” said one participant, “what defines me more are my personalities, the characters I have, how I use my time”. “I spent my entire childhood in a refugee camp in northern Uganda,” explained another, “I like to have fun, dance, and travel to different countries… I love peace, connection, and interaction with people regardless of tribes, religion, and political affiliations”. Mabior explained, “I’m a South Sudanese by identity… I grew up in a refugee camp, in Kenya and finally Uganda… I’ve been serving as a community leader in the refugee camp, so I like serving people”.
Whilst coming from diverse communities and locations, they found they had many shared identities, which they agreed made them feel ‘connected’, ‘together’, ‘excited’, and positive. They also shared examples of the opposite – what it felt like to be judged based on assumptions about their identity traits.
“You’re too light and short to be South Sudanese”, “How come your English is so good and you’re South Sudanese?” – these are examples of the judgments some participants experienced. ‘Just because I am South Sudanese, someone judged me to be arrogant’, explained another. ‘Junubin’ means South Sudanese – one participant recalls this word being used as an insult when she has expressed anger in the past; ‘South Sudanese are always mad and angry or? And when I’m courteous and nice and polite I’m not South Sudanese?’ she asks.
The group exchanged on prejudice and mistrust based on tribal identity – a serious issue underlying much inter-communal conflict in South Sudan today. ‘Acholi men, are seen to be ‘womanizers’, and this affected my relationship with my girlfriend’s family’ explained a participant. ‘Stereotypes that my tribe people like running with kids’ caused another participant’s boyfriend to leave her.
Alith recalled being told, “you are too open-minded and patient to be a Dinka”. Mabior, who grew up in refugee camps outside of South Sudan, told a recent story of his visit to a hospital when he reached out to offer support to a Nuer family, also living in the refugee camp, but they refused to speak to him simply because they assumed he was a Dinka – and this in spite of them having much in common as refugees attending a sick family member in a foreign land in the midst of Covid-19.
Most of the participants in this workshop shared a common interest: writing. Most are keen to use their creativity to communicate ideas of peace and unity. These feelings were echoed by Alith, who asked the group prompting questions: What is a story? Why do we write? Who do we write for?
“Writing is a tool which translates untouchable tones into reality”, wrote one participant. Another: “Writers write about what is not spoken about”. One participant suggested writing is putting down “our thoughts, our experiences, and everything we feel”. Another indicated “it is one way of storing our thoughts to either reflect on or share with others”.
When asked what often prohibits them from writing, many referred to self-doubt – “When you don’t believe in your ideas and thoughts, when you think people may judge that you are not a good writer”.