Sudanese Woman PeaceMaker Rebecca Okwaci to hold conversation in IPJ
Editor in Chief
I found myself sitting beside a tall, thin Sudanese woman on Monday afternoon, wondering how I had come to be in the presence of such wisdom. Rebecca Joshua Okwaci’s voice is soft, but full of a certain type of knowledge that comes only through experience.
She was born in Malakal, Sudan and remembers her childhood as happy and full of encouragement, even though the world around her was full of war. “War has been in Sudan for a long time. History puts it to 1955 when a mutiny started in southern Sudan,” she told me. Sudanese women and children found themselves at the center of a battlefield and people began to leave Sudan.
“Sudanese women found themselves in Nairobi, in Kenya. We used to cry and feel that we [left] this conflict in our country … but we thought it was not enough to continue crying. It is time now for action.” In an attempt to fight the battle peacefully, Rebecca helped establish the Sudanese Women’s Voice for Peace, the Sudanese Women Association in Nairobi (SWAN), then the Sudanese Women’s Empowerment for Peace and eventually the Women Action for Development.
With the support of organizations and their members, Rebecca found herself able to get to the “root causes of the problem.” With programs to raise awareness, members of the Sudanese Women’s Voice for Peace went into war zones to give women the opportunity to talk about what peace meant to them. “Many a times we thought peace was signing agreements, cessation of hostility, stopping of the gun,” Rebecca told me. “But women had various voices of integrity and peace. Many of them were talking about drinking water, about food for their children, about shelter, about stopping the aerial bombardment, so these kinds of programs were what we would mean by the ‘women’s voice for peace.’”
While simultaneously educating themselves, providing training for other women and figuring out what peace meant to such a diverse population, Rebecca explained that to have a lasting peace in Sudan, activists had to remember not to “lose sight of the differences we have. Because if we lose sight, we are pretending.” She taught me the value of learning to accept differences while remembering the things we have in common. “We are women. We are the providers of life. We are the ones who bear children. But, still, we had the bigger political problems, which are dominance, the use of religion, the marginalization of some areas in Sudan, lack of development,” she stressed.
Maintaining open communication and freedom in the media is part of what Rebecca sees as “real peace.” She currently works for an independent radio service, which brings issues of peace, civic education, participation in decision-making and women’s rights into the forum of discussion. Rebecca’s work takes her all over Sudan and she is no stranger to travel. She spent her honeymoon, or her “honey-political-moon,” as she calls it, in the bush with her new husband after they joined the revolution together. Her children were born in exile in Kenya, a fact she wanted them to understand from a very young age, and she has also lived in refugee camps in Ethiopia. “I remember the Kenyan women,” she says looking into my eyes, “very great women who stood behind us. By then we just felt like small women who were traumatized by the war and needed a big sister. … Kenyan women were there for us.”
“I feel like I was born to do what I am doing,” Rebecca said when I asked her where her indefatigable energy comes from. She identifies herself with her country and its struggle. In 2011, southern Sudan will have the opportunity to decide whether it wants to be part of a unified Sudan or to secede. Rebecca sees opportunity for the people of southern Sudan to make the right decision. She describes the peace status of different areas of Sudan, such as the north/south conflict, Darfur and regions in the east as a work in progress. “We have gone through a history of continuous mistrust, a continuous dishonoring of the peace agreements,” she said. “Real peace would be to leave people to determine their fate, to say we want to live as one country or we want to live as separate countries.”
Rebecca can see real peace and is working to help other women and men to visualize it as well. Her wisdom comes from her passion for life, for love, for her children and for her country.
Join Rebecca for her “Conversation,” which will be held Thurs., Oct. 5 at 12:30 p.m. in the IPJ Theatre.
The Vista, October 5, 2006Original Article