Some Practical Lessons from the Newest World Country: South Sudan
When I joined the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in December 2019, I did not realize the full significance of my role as an UN Volunteer Human Rights Officer. While preparing to travel for my assignment, I read a lot about the history and current affairs of the country to have an idea of what I was going to face, but I never imagined how this experience would change my life – for good. Coming from Colombia, this was my first assignment in an UN Mission and my first time in Africa.
My work as a Human Rights Officer in South Sudan has given me the opportunity to really connect with people; to engage with local communities and to advocate for the most vulnerable groups in the country; but also, has inspired me to reflect on things/concepts that I thought were absolute truth.
Are human rights for all? Is peace a mere utopia? Is education the key for development? Is culture stronger than international human rights law? Am I making any impact with my job? Honestly, I wish I had an answer to all of those questions, but so far the only thing I know for sure is that I am doing my best with the tools I have. And, that every night I go to bed with a feeling of gratitude and satisfaction for having the opportunity to do what I am passionate about: promoting human rights in the newest world country.
However, it has not been an easy journey. I was stranded for seven months in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, I was burnout, I caught malaria and typhoid, and I injured my knee while playing basketball and travelled back home to get surgery, just to mention some of the events that hit me really hard.
All this being said, I have learnt some lessons during these two-and-a-half years that I have been in Sudan and during the Rotary Peace Program session on well-being that I would like to share here:
You need to take care of yourself first before being able to take care of others. Not the opposite.
Mental health matters.
Do not feel bad for setting boundaries.
Find your own ways of healing. What works for you may not work for others.
Do what feels right for you. Do not let anybody impose their thoughts or beliefs.
Disconnect from the context/scenario which is affecting you -if needed.
Do not feel bad for prioritizing yourself. The world will continue with or without you.
Ask for help. Do not hesitate to do it.
Sandra Martinez – (Colombia and South Sudan)
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 33