MINGKAMAN, South Sudan – “Thanks for tuning in. This is Healthy Living. I’m your host Ayada Machok Kuerich. This program focuses on mental health awareness. Stay tuned to Mingkaman 100 FM.”
On December 15, 2013, President Salva Kiir’s guards attacked former Vice President Riak Machar’s in the capital Juba claiming he was plotting to overthrow the government.
This ethnic conflict, pitting Kiir’s Dinka against Machar’s Nuer, quickly spread to Bor, Jonglei state, and other state capitals with key military outposts throughout the country.
The violence in Bor caused thousands of traumatized civilians to flee into the United Nations base, located outside of Bor town, and across the Nile River to Mingkaman, Lakes state.
This created a humanitarian crisis, as aid agencies helped meet the needs of these internally displaced people, or IDPs.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration, provides humanitarian assistance to displaced South Sudanese. One of its most popular programs focuses on mental health awareness.
IOM provides mental health and psychosocial support services at the UN protection-of-civilians site in Bor. Pauline Birot is IOM program manager in Bor and Bentiu.
“Creating mental health awareness is crucial in South Sudan. For instance, there is still much work to be done regarding stigmatization,” Birot said. “We need to get the conversation going on these issues. People have gone through a lot and are still dealing with much emotional distress.”
The population of Mingkaman ballooned to nearly 100,000 in 2014. The town is located 130 kms north of Juba. Mingkaman 100 FM was set up by Internews to meet the information needs of the town’s residents.
Last October, Mingkaman 100 FM launched a mental health radio program called Healthy Living. This is the first of its kind on the airwaves in South Sudan.
“Welcome back to Healthy Living on Mingkaman 100 FM. I’m your host Ayada Machok Kuerich. Today, I want to explain where people can go to receive mental health treatment. Stay tuned.”
In South Sudan, radio is the most trusted source for news and information. With one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, the only true way to reach the majority of South Sudanese is via the public airwaves.
“Radio is a great media to work with because it can reach so many people.” Birot said. “It can help to address the stigma linked to mental disorders and provide information about how to care for oneself, one’s family members and one’s community as a whole.”
International Medical Corps, or IMC, is a U.S.-based humanitarian organization operating two health clinics for residents of Mingkaman. It has trained staff to conduct mental health check-ups.
Aduk Chuol is a 22-year-old living in Mingkaman site two. She comes from Duk County in Jonglei state. Chuol was displaced from her home and family back in 2013.
“My living situation stresses me. I live alone. My family is in Nimule [Eastern Equatoria state next to the border of Uganda],” Chuol said. “I can learn about how to deal with stress from the radio.”
Last week, Chuol was walking home from the Health Link clinic at Mingkaman market, where she works as a cook, and she spotted an elder in her community who was visibly intoxicated.
“Mental illness is a problem in our community. I know this man drinks alchohol and is addicted to drugs. I heard on the radio where to go for mental health services, so I asked him to visit the IMC clinic,” Chuol said. “The man refused, but I will keep trying to help him.”
Chuol is now a regular listener to Mingkaman 100 FM’s Healthy Living program. She enjoys hearing her favourite host, Ayada, discuss the causes of stress and trauma. Chuol also finds it useful to know where to go to seek psychosocial support and mental health counselling.
“That brings us to the end of Healthy Living. Tune in every Thursday at 9 p.m. to Mingkaman 100 FM as I raise awareness about mental health in the community. As Bob Marley once sang: ‘Don’t worry, ‘bout a thing. ‘Cause every little thing, gonna be alright.’ Thanks for listening.”