After 17 hours of travel, I found myself 8,200 miles from home in the newest country in the world, South Sudan. As I stepped off the plane, I immediately saw a sea of blue – the helmets and berets of the U.N. Peacekeepers. We were ushered into a line to check for Ebola and I began to wonder what exactly I had gotten myself into.
I arrived in the country along with 5 other lawyers and 6 trauma care professionals to run a conference on justice and human rights organized by ALARM. ALARM is an African led and African based organization that focuses on equipping leaders with the skills and knowledge needed to truly transform their communities.
And South Sudan is in desperate need of transformation. The people of South Sudan went through a 21-year war, followed by independence and the formation of a new democracy. This was followed by a short period of peace, but then an internal civil war rooted in tribalism. They have seen violence and hardship for an entire generation. And yet, they carry on and remain resolute in trying to build a beautiful nation.
We ran a four day conference and worked with lawyers, judges, pastors, economists, and activists to identity the issues facing the country, the goals and aspirations for the country, and action plans to achieve those goals. Every South Sudanese at the conference was keenly aware of the issues faced by South Sudan: corruption, bribery, tribal conflict, and lack of respect for the rule of law – among others. We worked hard to give them the tools to become peacemakers, servant leaders, and caretakers of the law and their people.
We also visited a U.N. IDP camp. IDPs are individuals who have been forced to leave their home to avoid armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters. There are currently 12.5 million IDPs in Africa alone. Without a doubt, these camps are some of the hardest and worst places on earth. We went, however, so we could bring the stories of those people back with us and make sure they are not forgotten.
I know this was not the typical way to use vacation time. I ended each day soaked in sweat and mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. And yet looking back, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. As lawyers, we possess unique skills and abilities and can serve the underprivileged and promote justice and the public interest in ways that no other profession can. Sometimes that looks like helping someone across the street. Other times, it might be halfway across the world.