From South Sudan to Washington, DC: Reflections on the RESULTS International Conference
I joined RESULTS in April 2016 as an Atlas Corps Fellow from South Sudan. Before I came to RESULTS, I was working as a journalist. I also was involved with women’s empowerment issues, encouraging women in my country to participate in public life and advocate for women’s rights.
Attending the RESULTS International Conference (IC) was a really interesting experience for me. I was able to meet RESULTS international colleagues who came from different countries, including Kenya, Canada, and South Africa. When I met the participants from Kenya, we discussed the advocacy work RESULTS is doing in Africa concerning health and education. This conversation made me feel that I truly belonged at RESULTS because I realized how much everyone cares about the health and wellbeing of people all over the world.
Each day of the International Conference was different. I heard leaders from around the world speak about issues in education, health and nutrition. Most days it was difficult to choose which sessions to attend because all of the topics were interesting. The information presented at the IC provided me with practical skills which I plan to use when I return to South Sudan. The most interesting workshops I attended were, “The Power of Telling Your Own Story: The Expert on Poverty Project and Global Health Media Champions” and a writing workshop around the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. I learned how to design my own advocacy plan that I intend to use when I return to South Sudan.
For me, the most interesting part of the IC was the people I met. I spoke with RESULTS volunteers from all over the United States, including Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and California. I also met other Africans who are living in diaspora. Each of the activists I met showed their identity in a different way. They were wearing African fabrics, styling their hair in traditional ways, and speaking in their mother tongues. I learned a lot from my fellow Africans. For example, I discovered that in South Africa and Cameron there are many local languages. I talked to them about the advocacy work they are doing in the United States and Europe. I learned that they miss home and hope someday to return and serve their country – just as I hope to do.
I was able to participate in RESULTS Real Change Fellowship, where I met youth my age from all over the United States and from Africa, too. When meeting American youth, they always asked me where I was from. When I replied I was from South Sudan, most people didn’t know where my country was on a map. I explained that South Sudan is in East Africa; we are just a new country separated from Sudan. People were very interested to learn about my country, including a lady who was learning Arabic.
What I discovered about Real Changers is that they are independent and feel a responsibility to improve their society. It was amazing to see the opportunities they have and the support they receive from RESULTS. I felt that we had a lot in common, and it gave me energy about the future of the world.
Seeing advocates from different countries coming together made me realize that we all share the same values. The IC was the first place where I found advocates advising each other. Some participants shared examples of successful advocacy from their home countries, and explained how they solved problems. We talked about the lessons learned and received advice from those who have more experience in our field.
The last day of the IC I was able to participate in lobby day, where I went to Capitol Hill with the Washington, DC RESULTS chapter. It was a great feeling to walk in the halls of Congress and pass other women taking about important issues like poverty and taxes. Some people criticized policies. This would not happen in my country. We do elect parliamentarians, but they don’t have these kind of meetings with us. And most decisions are made by men. That’s why I was so excited to meet the office director for DC’s female member of Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton. He welcomed us warmly and I told him that I’m from South Sudan. He was excited to meet me and shared that the White House is working on a project about South Sudan, even asking me to submit information on what support the South Sudanese need. I talked about health and education for refugees in South Sudan. It made me very happy – I couldn’t imagine that my presence would be so meaningful to people working in Congress!
Participating in the IC and visiting Congress was a turning point in my life. I became more interested in issues like health and education. The IC motivated me to go back to South Sudan and work to improve the lives of people in my country by applying the advocacy lessons I have learned.