South Sudan’s civil war and the culture of violence that surrounds it are partly responsible for this. Civil conflict persists in the nation, even though the war is officially over. While it is mostly men that are fighting, women and children suffer disproportionately through sexual and gender-based violence – so often used as a weapon of war around the world.
Finding healing for women’s emotional scars lies at the heart of NEPWU’s work. ‘If someone comes to me broken, I listen,’ she says. ‘Without peace, life is so difficult.’
Evelyn has a wider vision of how these women can make peace, however. She believes that men and women living with HIV have a vital role in bringing reconciliation to a nation that is tragically divided.
She says that her eyes were opened to this when she joined Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals programme. The scheme nurtures, trains and supports Christian leaders around the world who have an exciting and innovative vision.
‘I used to think peacebuilding was just connected to politics. I realise now that so much of my work is about restoring peace in the community and this is essential to the bigger picture too’ – part of NEPWU’s work is to help HIV positive women become reconciled and reintegrated with their families and home communities.
‘We are becoming an active part of the peace process in South Sudan. If we, who are extremely marginalised because of our HIV positive status, can find our place and voice, surely it will give hope to others that they too can achieve acceptance, worth and dignity. And also, they can be part of transforming our country, whatever their age, gender, status or difference.’
‘We have been praying for peace in South Sudan for so long. The high-level peace process remains of utmost importance, but we need to make sure that negotiations also include the voices of youth, churches, women and vulnerable groups.
At home with peace
‘But peace deals can only do so much. Sustainable peace isn’t achieved when the ink hits the paper. Peace should be sought in everyday interactions between neighbours, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives – those who have been enemies, becoming friends.
‘To truly build strong foundations of peace, we must each individually decide to begin a personal journey of reconciliation in our own hearts and homes.’ It is the same journey that Evelyn herself began, when she first heard the voice in the midst of her bitterness.
‘Peace has to start at home,’ she adds. This is key for Evelyn, because she knows that a peacemaker who hasn’t reached out to try and make peace with both themselves and those closest to them, isn’t fully ready for the job of healing their nation.
Evelyn is an Inspired Individual. Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals programme exists to identify, develop and connect new leaders who are aspiring to live like Jesus and whose dreams have the potential to transform some of the most needy places and people in our world.
Thank you that you are the God who draws close to the despairing and despised. You hear the cry of their hearts. And you entrust them some of your most precious and important work.
Embolden Evelyn and all those in NEPWU. May their voices be heard and respected as they challenge the taboo of HIV in South Sudan. And may they offer a powerful message to a nation crippled by conflict.