In a nation in turmoil, Mr Mayong is a happy man. A resident of Tonj East, in South Sudan’s isolated North West, change has come to his predominantly cattle-raising lands.
Surrounded by sourgham crops that tower above him, and interspersed with maize crops and sugar cane, he knows there will be plenty to eat and sell this year.
It hasn’t always been like this, nor is it the case in much of conflict-ravaged South Sudan. “Life was so difficult when I was young, and during the civil war. There were no hospitals around, no schools, there wasn’t even a market,” he says. “We just had to move from place to place, through the bush, with our cattle, in order to survive. My parents weren’t cultivating because if you stayed in one place for too long, you’d be killed. We just relied on just milk and meat. There was nothing else.”
Mayong’s family lived with their clan and moved together looking for water and pastures for their cattle, enduring frequent conflicts with other tribes, particularly with the Nuer. Shared water points were hot spots for cattle-stealing by rival tribes.
Now with a family of his own, a plot and a cow, Mayong has been subsistence farming until this year. But in the last several months, a UNICEF-ACROSS ‘Ox-Plough Initiative’, aimed at increasing the level of resources in the community and therefore reducing conflict drivers, saw Mayong chosen by his village to be trained to use an ox-plough, and in return, to train others.
“We were trained in theory and practical,” he beams. “And after that, I came back and trained four others in the village and I was chosen to be the team leader of the group in our village!”
The recipient of today’s training, 15 year old school student, Jacob Madan, is equally upbeat about the initiative: “In the short time I’ve been undergoing training, I’ve seen how good and how important the ox plough is. I hope I can get good skills for myself and also share them with other people.”
Mayong adds, with a nod to his protege: “It’s very important to train youth in the community because if they have nothing to do, they’ll just go around and if they see someone else’s property, they’ll just take it. But if they’re engaged and working on the farm from morning til afternoon, they have no time to go around and cause trouble, they concentrate on what they have. There are many youth and so if they are all trained and engaged, there will be no trouble in the community.”
Jacob pipes in: “I strongly advise youth to put down their guns and to pick up the ox plough and the pen so that peace will prevail in our community.”
Story by Nicola Simmonds