The ongoing violence in South Sudan has at many times dominated international headlines since the conflict there erupted in late 2013. Diplomats, politicians and activist have all worked to change the course of violence in the young country but the situation has only gotten worse. Some college students here in the Washington, DC area say changing matters in South Sudan is possible - but policy makers should pursue a different approach.
Sandra Tombe describes herself as an ambitious and hard-working South Sudanese American. She's 25 years old and is earning a doctoral degree at George Mason University in conflict resolution which she hopes to use to help people in her native country. Although hopeful, Tombe says she is not naïve, and is aware that achieving long-term change in South Sudan could take some time.
“That’s the thing; I think we sometimes think of change as something that is radical, something that transforms society in a way that is unimaginable," said Tombe. "But change happens on a very small level, and so if we each take the responsibility individually to contribute to society and to contribute to resolving the conflict in South Sudan, then we can actually achieve something. And we are not going to see that change overnight, but it is something that on a daily basis we have to be working on it.”
Twenty-three-year-old American University student Luxing Jiang agrees but says that policy makers and diplomats have so far taken the wrong approach to helping the people in South Sudan. He told VOA the international community should focus more on building the country’s infrastructure to create an atmosphere where democratic ideals and a civic engagement could flourish.
“I am a realist, so again I think human rights and the political campaigns are important, but I think what is more important is how many schools you have, how many hospitals you have and how many South Sudanese can benefit from that so that they can make money, they can have a family, they can let their children go to school, so in the end you are looking at the big picture," Jiang said.
But for other students like Dau Dol Dol, a rising South Sudanese American junior at the School of International Studies at American University, the conflict is much more personal. And he says for countless young people like him, who once called Kenya's large Kakuma refugee camp home, all he has ever known is war.
“Most of the youth, most South Sudanese youth, were born in the refugee camp, were born during the war, were displaced during the war," said Dol. "I am 21 years old and all I have known is the war. How do we change that? We have to change the cycle, the warrior like mentality that we have in South Sudan. We are tearing our own house apart. We have to change something. Something has to change because there are absolutely no words to describe it because we were so full of joy.”
“The fact that some people are impacted, that means that all of us are impacted and that we have a role to play as students and as people who are hoping to step into leadership roles," Tombe said. "It is something that we need to take on now and build onto it in the future, and not something that we assume after we finish school or after we get a “real job” but it is something that we are incrementally building upon.”
The United Nations and the government of South Sudan declared famine in parts of the country last week and aid workers complained that delivering lifesaving aid to displaced communities has proven difficult under deadly security conditions as well as a lack of roads for easy accessibility. The South Sudanese government has made plans to initiate a national dialogue which they say is designed to end hostilities and bring divided communities to the table.