2 September 2014
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Her teacher told me that: “At school, we only talk about school. The children need something to help them forget about what happened.” When I asked her what was the best thing she’d learned so far, she said:
"My ABCDs and my 1234s." 

(Tongping Internally Displaced Persons Site, Juba, South Sudan)

2 September 2014
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This woman spoke about how she had been visiting her sister in Juba when the fighting broke out, and had been unable to return home. To make matters worse, she had left her older children behind in her village, because she thought it would just be a short trip. She had not seen them in nearly a year. As I was interviewing her, she kept a very resigned, unsmiling, faraway look on her face, which can be seen in the previous post. But when we finished, my translator asked her what village she was from. When she told him, he pulled out his phone. “I’ve just been to your hometown on an aid mission,” he said, “I can show you photos.” As he scrolled through photos of her village, her expression suddenly changed.

(Tongping Internally Displaced Persons Site, Juba, South Sudan)

2 September 2014
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"I’ve seen a lot of death."

(Tongping Internally Displaced Persons Site, Juba, South Sudan)

2 September 2014
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South Sudan is a difficult place to explain. It’s one of those places where it is impossible to separate the political and the personal, because the dominant themes of every personal life have been shaped by political circumstances. Very few people in South Sudan have hopes, fears, happiest moments, and saddest moments, that are entirely divorced from the conflict that has enveloped the country. The fighting here has been going on for so long, that the root causes of the violence are complex, interwoven, and difficult to ascertain. South Sudan was established as a country in 2011, following a 20 year civil war with northern Sudan. This war was largely a religious and ethnic conflict, which often descended into genocide— most famously in the Darfur region. Millions of civilians were killed. 

Three years ago, when South Sudan finally achieved it’s independence from the north, there was a great deal of optimism. But late last year, a political battle between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar ignited a new civil war. Because the two men were from different tribes, the fighting has once again broken out along ethnic lines. Ethnic war is an an especially deadly sort of conflict because it can easily spill over into civilian populations.

Fighting in the new civil war is largely between the Dinka and the Nuer, South Sudan’s two dominant tribes. Many of the posts from the next few days were collected at an Internally Displaced Persons Site within the UN compound in Juba. The people in these posts are members of the Nuer tribe. When fighting broke out, they stormed the gates of the UN to escape an unfolding massacre at the hands of Dinka fighters. Over the course of a few days, thousands of Nuer were gunned down in the capital city, where they represented a significant minority. 

In other parts of the country, Dinka were killed with equal indiscrimination in heavily Nuer regions. I provide this context only to make clear that this is not a story of victim vs. aggressor. But rather the latest outbreak of violence in a new country with a troubled history that is filled with violence, distrust, and racial animosities. But South Sudan is also a country filled with millions of civilians who are desperately, and with the greatest difficulty, trying to transcend this history and establish a society based on democratic and equalitarian ideals. But burdened by decades of resentment, revenge, and almost ceaseless fighting, it is proving to be an extremely difficult climb.

1 September 2014
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"The thing we need most is security. Without security, nothing works. We are only out here playing chess because right now, in this place, we have a little bit of security. But that’s just for right now— just this moment. In this country things have never been secure for long. In America, there is always security. And that’s why America works."

(Juba, South Sudan)

1 September 2014
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"My father left for war in 1992, and never came home. Our mother didn’t tell us he was dead for a long time. We just thought he was still fighting. But one day we were being extremely difficult, and she started crying, and said: "Please behave. I’m a single mother now. So I’m going to need you’re help."

(Juba, South Sudan)

1 September 2014
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Today in microfashion…

(Juba, South Sudan)

1 September 2014
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He told me he wanted to be a “soccer star,” but wouldn’t say much else, probably because his teammates were hovering around him. But later on, when I asked the coach who the strongest player was, he pointed out this boy. “We made him captain,” the coach explained, “Because he takes it the most seriously. If we lose, he won’t talk for the rest of the day. He always shows up early to practice. If we’re not around, he organizes the team and has them ready when we arrive. And if anyone loses their temper during the game, he’ll reprimand them and tell them to just focus on winning.”

(Juba, South Sudan)

1 September 2014
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"Our team is called the Young Boys. We grew up in this neighborhood, so we wanted to give the local kids something to do after school. We bought them balls and shoes with our own money, and for game days, we go around and beg local churches for a place to play. We want to keep them very busy so they don’t have time for bad things. We don’t want to see anyone on our team wandering the streets. We practice every other day. The girls have their practice on our days off."

(Juba, South Sudan)

31 August 2014
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This may be the happiest I’ve ever been to write a post. Last year, as many of you probably remember, we held a crowdfunding campaign to help a family with adoption fees. The Watkins family had already adopted an eight year old daughter from Ethiopia. They were so happy with their new family, they decided to adopt a ten year old boy named Rabuma, who they had discovered in an orphanage. They knew that Rabuma was destined to be their new son, but were heartbroken because they didn’t have the money to bring him home yet. 4,000 of you donated to help make this family a reality. Over the past year, the Watkins have been sending me periodic updates, but I didn’t want to share them because I didn’t want to jeopardize the process. But everything just finalized. By a beautiful coincidence, the Watkins happened to pick up Rabuma while I was in Africa. So between destinations, I took a two hour detour to Ethiopia to photograph the occasion. It was such an honor for me to be present at the birth of this new family. The love that had already developed between them just filled the room.

30 August 2014
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"I want to be a nurse."

(Jinja, Uganda)

30 August 2014
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"I row 16 kilometers per day. A few weeks ago, I was in Germany for the Junior World Championships. My goal is to make the Olympics one day. But it can be tough to compete with the European countries. We don’t have the gym equipment that they have. And they practice with actual racing boats. We only get to use the racing boats during the race."

(Kampala, Uganda)

30 August 2014
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"What’s the most important thing your mother has taught you?"
“If you buy food, you should always eat it with someone else.”

(Kampala, Uganda)

30 August 2014
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"I want to be an engineer."
"What advice would you give other engineers?"
"If you build a house that collapses, you’re going to get arrested. So you need to keep using the pendulum to make sure that everything is straight. Also, your cement mix has to be strong. You also need to be careful with the builders that you hire, or they will steal the cement from you.”
"What sort of building would you build?"
"A factory that makes new books, so that everyone can have new books for school. All of my books are old and have writing in them."

(Entebbe, Uganda)

30 August 2014
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"I’ve sold fish in the market for the last thirty years, because I never had the chance to go to university. Recently my daughter graduated from Makerere, which is one of the best schools in the country. When I walked through the gates to attend her graduation, I felt so happy, because I never thought I’d see the inside of a university."

(Kampala, Uganda)

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