A sad day in Maban
A few days ago, the compounds of the NGOs and UN organizations working in Maban County, in the north east of South Sudan, have been attacked and looted by a mob of local youth, allegedly enraged by the lack of employment opportunities with international organizations. That’s pretty much all I know, as I don’t have many contacts with the colleagues working there any longer (if any of them happens to read this, I send you my thoughts, and I hope you are all doing fine – stay safe and drop me a line if you can).
I spent in Maban most of my time working in South Sudan, which is also most of the time I had spent as a aid worker. I set foot there for the first time in September 2013, a couple of weeks after having arrived in the country. The operation and the context back then were deeply different – South Sudan was not embroiled in a civil war, after a rocky start the Maban operation was all in all going on relatively smoothly and the location considered relatively safe, at least enough for a green intern to be sent there. In four different periods, I spent in the county a bit less than two years. In insight, this is the single place where I have spent the longest period of time, after the city where I was born and the one where I studied. By the time I left it for good, in June 2017, the situation had deeply changed, locally and country-wide, and for the worse. The relocation I wrote about here was caused by dynamics not totally different from those that have led to the events on Monday.
This is to say that, although this event is without precedent in Maban, the tensions that brought it are not totally new. Perhaps, as a dear friend and former colleague of mine has said, the writing was on the wall. I don’t know enough to say if this is the case, but although shocked and deeply saddened, I am not totally surprised by what happened.
I am too far away now to imagine what can happen next. As I said, my thoughts are with my former colleagues and with the most vulnerable people in Maban. “Vulnerable” has somehow unfortunately become one more buzzword in the humanitarian jargon, used as an umbrella term to describe in general persons who need a particular degree of support (think for example about children, people with special needs, single mothers and so forth). By the time I had left South Sudan I believe I was using it without thinking too much about its real meaning. With all the limits and contradictions that the humanitarian response in Maban can have, I think it is beyond doubt that, should this event have an impact on it, these people will be those to suffer the most.
In memoriam of Priscilla Rugerbregt
Priscilla Rugerbregt used to be HR officer for DRC at the time I was working with them in South Sudan, between 2016 and 2017. I believe she was still working with DRC in the same capacity, although I am not sure about it. While I was reviewing the post above, I saw on Facebook, and then heard from former colleagues, that Priscilla passed prematurely away yesterday in her home town in Indonesia. I don’t know much about her death, other that it seems to be due to typhoid fever.
It is a tragic and saddening loss. Priscilla was a great person and had been an outstanding colleague. She was a person you could rely on, expect support from, and who always managed to keep together at the same time the highest degree of professionalism, and the capacity of being extremely sympathetic with her colleagues. This is no small achievement in any working environment, and even less so in the aid industry. I remember that in the aftermath of the clashes in Juba in July 2016, her cooking abilities received a special mention in the security update as being one of the factors that helped the team to hold together in difficult times.
She also had a strong entrepreneurial spirit, that led her to open a small business in her home country. Also this, not a small achievement for a person working in a war torn country with no real time schedules and no real weekends.
She will be sorely missed by all who knew her. To the family and her friends I send my most sincere condolences.