Sacrifices and Power of Hope

Even with faltering economy and volatile political atmosphere in South Sudan, 7-years old Marial Thiong still believe that there is hope; that one day it will all come to pass and he will take his right place as a citizen of South Sudan. But still, even with this courage and determination the blows are still hard on him. Marial Thiong lives in Jonglei state’s capital, Bor. His father, Thiong is a farmer of indigenous cows owns 40 herd which Marial helps to tend. Due to threat of incessant raiding from Murle community, Thiong relocated his cattle camp on the opposite side of the river Nile to that of the town.

On 17th March this year, I had a short interview with Marial, his elder brother, and his cousins at the shore of Nile. As the boys were stepping on their pseudo-dock, I asked the boys if they could spare five minutes for me and they were more than willing to talk to me. Our conversation rolled on as the kids removed their shoes from their UNICEF-provided-school bags. I learnt that Mariel Thiong row his brother and two cousins across River Nile twice a day; to the other side of the river so that they can walk to school and from school back to the camp in the evening. Rowing a canoe from the camp to the shore along with the current might not be a hard challenge for a child as dogged as Marial. With stream in his favor, it required him less energy to float the wooden system of transport to the other side of the river. “All I have to do is control the canoe so that I cannot miss the dock,” said Marial during my short conversation with him.

Marial is at the far left(docking the canoe), his cousin in the middle and his elder brother at far right.

There is enormous exposure to all kinds of danger when crossing the Nile, especially when using a canoe. Two months before I met Marial and his brothers, two children, a 13 and a 15 year-old had drown on the same route Marial paddle in twice a day for five days in a week. The peril is not only posed by capricious velocity of water, but also by instability of traditional canoes. They are too narrow to resist the surge of the wave. Worse of all, the river is invested with crocodiles and hippos which are hazardous even to people as far as the shore. My conversation with these children have enlightened me of a perspective of hopeful young people in a situation where older people are hoping against hope. I asked Marial why he was not going to school himself. “I don’t go to school because I look after my father’s cattle.” Said Marial with a sound of a tortured soul. But that was not why he does what he is doing. Marial has a far vision and strategy that some adults cannot dare to dream of. “I remain home and take care of our livestock so that my brother can go to school. Hopefully one day he will be somebody,” added Marial. This might look like a story of child abuse but this is more a story of hope, love, and sacrifice. Marial gave up one thing that this world considers necessary for a decent living — education — with hope that one day his brother will do something great for his family and community.

On that Friday morning, as the other children headed for classrooms which Marial might never set foot in, I watched him wave his brothers a good day while he pushed his canoe in deeper part of the river so that it would float before he swung his skinny, short legs into it. I held my breath longer than I could remember as the little fighter balanced his tiny body on the apex of the canoe and struggled against the turbulent current.

Marial rowing back to the cattle camp after taking his elder brother cross to the other side of the river Nile.

The courage and determination of Marial might be unique but the situation isn’t. Many children in South Sudan are going through the same hardship as Marial and his siblings. Security is not the only fractured area of social service in South Sudan. There is a floundering economy, terrible infrastructure, but worse of all, dirty politics and propaganda. The latter is a sore in the eye of progress of the youngest nation. In the same month of March, community council of Bor Town held meetings which were with politically sparked agenda of firing all NGOs in the entire State, UNICEF (the only educational NGO, keeping the dream of children like Marial alive) included. The nation is going through crises after crises, and the question is, how long will these determined seeds of the nation be hopeful?

Well, few months ago, international community and regional blogs (IGAD and AU) considered taking over of South Sudan’s security by UN as a possibility to stop the ongoing atrocities and suffering but the motion was dropped in fear of violating national sovereignty. I think talking of sovereignty in this context is immoral, what is sovereignty if the people are being reduced to annihilation? A nation is more than just geographical boundary drew by white settles several decade ago; a nation is people. Liberia, for example is far well off compare to South Sudan today yet her security was handled by UN for quite some time. It is true that many African politicians want to protect their people from “western imperialism,” which is great, but have we ever asked ourselves if we are using this idea as a shield to protect ourselves from consequences of our wrong deeds? It poses an irony if it’s the same politicians oppressing their very own citizens who are singing hymns of sovereignty. If the current leaders of South Sudan cannot find a solution to save the nation, then we should put the country’s security in the hands of custodians, and allow young Marial and his likes to be safe and get some education so that they can fight “western’s imperialism” another day.

By Martin Maker, March 13, 2017


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