The Power of Stories
by Barbara Davenport
Rebecca Joshua Okwaci believes in the power of stories. The tall, slender woman with lilting speech and infectious laugh is a journalist and executive producer for Sudan Radio Service. She’s spent her professional life telling the stories of her country’s 50-year-long civil war and its tortured progress toward peace.
She’s been part of the revolution against Sudan’s dictatorial Muslim government and she’s worked for women’s economic empowerment. With Sudanese Women’s Voice for Peace, she developed the first peacebuilding and conflict resolution programs and trainings in the Shilluk Kingdom in Christian southern Sudan. She’s lived in exile in Kenya, where work and war have often separated her from her husband and her children.
“I needed my story told,” she says. “It is the story of peacemaking among Sudanese women who managed to accept their differences and agree to move forward in the search for peace in their war-torn country.”
She’d never found time to tell her own story before. She worked long hours reporting, often in war zones. At night she cared for her children and for a stream of women who knew of her peace work and came to seek her advice and collaboration. She used vacation time to work with women’s peacebuilding organizations in Sudan and Kenya and international NGOs.
Coming to the IPJ as a Woman PeaceMaker has felt for Okwaci both like a luxury and like an urgent necessity. Exhaling a long sigh, she says, “I never thought that in my life I would have the opportunity to sit down in a peaceful environment.”
She’s welcomed the time to slow down, talk with other women chosen for the program, and reflect on her work. In conjunction with peace writer Susan Van Schoonhoven, she’s found memories emerging, and with them, renewed hope. The opportunity offered by the IPJ to document her own story has deepened her conviction that stories can empower people.
At the program’s end in mid-November, Okwaci left for Sudan to reunite with her family, carrying with her a new determination to tell the stories of her country’s women, its heroes and peacemakers.
© 2007 USD Magazine