MINGKAMAN, South Sudan – To celebrate July 9, South Sudan’s fifth independence anniversary, Internews hosted a multimedia exhibit featuring photographs and audio produced by Mingkaman Young Reporters.
This is a group of youth from Mingkaman, Awerial County I had trained last January on the basics of photography and radio. The Mingkaman 100 FM journalism trainer, Tanya Birkbeck, asked a local women’s cooperative and the ACTED camp management agency if we could use their Site Two Community Centre, to hold the event.
July 7, the evening before I departed Juba, things took a turn for the worse. A shootout at a checkpoint between government soldiers and opposition forces, stationed in Juba as part of the August peace agreement, put all out war back on the table. The peace agreement was shelved.
An Internews driver took me, and two others, to the Juba airport the morning of July 8. He decided to drive past J1, South Sudan’s state house. Soldiers stepped out on to the road and ordered us to stop. They allowed us to leave after questioning, but I could see in their eyes they were preparing for the worst.
I arrived in Mingkaman later that morning to reunite with Tanya and the Mingkaman 100 FM team. In the afternoon, factional fighting broke out at state house, while both President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar were inside. Neither of them knew what was going on outside and admitted this in a joint press conference.
Juba turned into a war zone. Mingkaman 100 FM intern, Young Juma, was first to the radio studio Saturday morning, July 9, South Sudan’s independence day. Like most of us, he was unsure of what had happened the previous day in the capital.
The Mingkaman Young Reporters exhibit was set to begin in the afternoon, after Tanya helped Young Juma prepare a news report that would inform the public without the need for rumour or speculation. Calls for peace across South Sudan were immediately put on the air.
At Site Two Community Centre, Mingkaman Young Reporters arrived to see their photos on display and one brought family members and friends to show off her work.
Rebecca Yar Achiek, 19, was happy to see her two photos on display at the centre. She already knew these photos had been selected earlier this year to be included in the Juba Photo Contest, hosted by the University of Juba’s French Institute, but this was the first time they were on display in her community.
I selected 15 of the best photos taken by the Young Reporters last January. The theme of this exhibit was displaced women and children, as there were many portraits showing the beauty and strength of those living in Awerial County, a safe haven for those fleeing violence in neighbouring Jonglei state.
I played the role of museum curator and walked visitors around to view each photo and listen to the Young Reporters’ radio work, recorded in Site Two, one of Mingkaman’s largest settlements for displaced people.
Back at Mingkaman FM, Young Juma kept reporting responsibly. Local radio journalist, Deng Daniel, attended the exhibit and did a live report from Site Two Community Centre with Young Juma in-studio, a first for the station.
Achiek went on live to express her gratitude to Internews and called on Mingkaman youth to attend the community’s first-ever exhibit.
Dozens of young boys and girls, along with women, came to the Site Two Community Centre to see what was happening inside. One woman pointed at a photo and told me she knew the lady featured.
I was excited that local youth, seeing these photos and hearing the recordings for the first time in their lives, would go home to tell their friends, family and neighbours about the experience.
The Mingkaman Young Reporters multimedia exhibit was my way of giving back to a community where I invested so much of my time and energy. Mingkaman has no secondary school so many youth allowed to continue with studies must leave the community to do so.
Achiek wants to attend secondary school, but she faces societal pressure to be married. I could see the Young Reporters training was a creative outlet for her and the three other young women, and eight young men, who had attended.
Young Juma brought national news to Mingkaman FM listeners. Tanya and I were extremely proud about his performance. While Mingkaman FM staff stood by, Young Juma brought news of the Mingkaman Young Reporters exhibit to all in the community while keeping them up-to-date on events across the country.
None of us knew when the fighting would stop, but Mingkaman’s young reporters stood up and showed leadership during this uncertain time. They wouldn’t allow an outbreak of violence to interrupt their fifth anniversary celebration.
The only way forward for South Sudan is to invest in its youth. Those I worked with in Mingkaman want long lasting peace and security so they can receive education and build this new nation from the ground up. I think we should all support these courageous young men and women. They are the future of this country.
Mingkaman Young Reporters multimedia exhibit was done with the help of Internews’ The Radio Community, a network of radio stations bringing humanitarian information and news to communities around the country.