Over the last four years, a series of small but real changes have turned Koch County, once marred by conflict, into a totally different and much friendlier beast. The legacy of initiatives funded by the Resilience, Stabilization, and Reconciliation Trust Fund is one of peace, optimism, sports, education, and gainful employment.
As international donors convened in Koch to assess the outcomes of the more than $15 million dollars’ worth of projects implemented since 2019, the sense of accomplishment was palpable, amongst beneficiaries and benefactors alike.
“It’s a new era in Koch,” declared Jackson Omona, the local Fund Programme Coordinator. “We’ve seen a seismic change in mindset here. Where there was once conflict, now there are collaborations and friendships. Our grassroots approach has been pivotal to this outcome.”
The initiative, supported by countries such as Norway, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, alongside international bodies like the European Union, has become a template for community-led change in post-conflict areas. It has been implemented by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, in close cooperation with a host of partners.
The metamorphosis is there for all to see. Youth, once disengaged and vulnerable, are now leaders of sports leagues and community activities. A new approach to policing has resulted in significantly lower crime rates. Vocational trainings have spurred economic growth.
Women and children move freely at all hours. The market is buzzing, and recently culinarily-trained locals churn out local breads and donuts, much to the delight of visiting donors.
“It’s amazing how delicious this mandazi is, better than what we find in Juba,” one of them commented happily, oblivious to the traces of the treat visible across his face.
A standout encounter for him was the one with Angelina Nyajal. As a recent high-school graduate and enthusiastic volleyball player, she embodies the project’s profound impact.
“The future has shifted dramatically for us young people,” she said, explaining how training and equipment supplied by the fund and its partners has enabled her to coordinate sports events in a wildly popular league created and led by the participating youths themselves.
Only a few years ago, Koch, Mayendit, and Leer were scarred by inter-communal violence. Thanks to the efforts of young leaders like Nyajal, current battles are fought only on football pitches and volleyball courts, where teams from the three counties play each other on most weeks.
“Sports unites us. We can visit Mayendit and Leer without any issues. It’s all about us young people enjoying getting together and having fun,” Nyajal told the donors, who beamed in return.
With the Trust Fund’s term ending, residents seem well placed to sustain the activities once kick started by the funds provided. They are the ones leading the various grassroots initiatives, and, by making the most of the know-how acquired over the course of the programme, they teach and empower others in the process.
The same goes for a fortified prison and a police station: externally financed but successfully run and maintained by locals.
“Their mere presence serves as a deterrent. A sense of lawlessness has been replaced by a culture of accountability, which helps prevent crime and stop any violence that still may occur,” said General James Tut Wal, the Koch Police Chief.
Observing what goes on around him – citizens moving about freely, playing sports together or being busy with income-generating work – Jackson Omona took a moment to reflect.
“An outsider would probably not even notice, but anyone from here knows that these scenes were impossible to imagine just a few years ago. Long may this continue.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).