When describing why Nonviolent Peaceforce is effective at preventing violence in Lakes State, South Sudan, a hospital nurse recounted: Look at the short woman who came!
She was describing Asha Asokan, one of Nonviolent Peaceforce's International Protection Officers. Originally from Kerala, India, Asha was shorter than the Dinka men of Lakes State, who often tower above six foot five inches (two meters). At the time, Asha worked alongside Abraham Mabor Arok, one of our National Protection Officers from South Sudan. The local community had taken to referring to Asha as the "short woman," and Abraham as the "tall man."
Recently, a group of hospital nurses convened to tell the Nonviolent Peaceforce "tall man" why Nonviolent Peaceforce not only needed to stay, but to increase our presence in Lakes State, South Sudan. That day, the nurses told Abraham where youth from different clans had converged at a cattle camp and were about to break into violence.
Nonviolent Peaceforce immediately intervened with Asha and Abraham in the lead. When their team arrived, some youth were already wounded. Working quickly, Asha and Abraham shuttled back and forth between the contending clans to deescalate the conflict and prevent any further violence that day.
The youth asked Abraham, "Who is this short woman and where does she come from?" When Abraham explained that she had come from India, the youth backed off from each other. "According to our culture we don't want to do something bad in front of outsiders," they explained. One of the youth leaders reasoned, "This problem has become so serious that people from other countries are coming. I will stop now."
That day, all sides priomised that they would not fight and, instead, they would wait for the chiefs to come and talk. The next morning, when the chiefs arrived, Nonviolent Peaceforce monitored the mediation process at the chiefs' request. A violent conflict was averted.
International Protection Officers like Asha bring an obvious "outside" presence, and National Protection Officers like Abraham bring invaluable local knowledge and relationships. By supporting teams made up of both, you support teams working for sustainable peace.