Simon Chol Mialith
Before Simon Chol Mialith worked for CARE South Sudan as a Peace Building and Conflict Mitigation Coordinator, he worked in several senior positions at national and international organizations both inside and outside of South Sudan. But before that, he was a child soldier.
In his early teenage years, Simon – hailing from the Panriang County of the Unity State in South Sudan – joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLM/A). He had grown up during a time of severe conflict – innocent Sudanese villagers suffered fighting and attacks from bombs.
“I grew up in a country that had already experienced two decades of war – conflict was all I knew,” Simon said. “I wanted to join the liberation struggle for South Sudan; I could not stand the violence anymore and hoped that one day I could live in a free and peaceful country.”
Simon spent five years in Ethiopia at the SPLM/A base, but when the presidency of Mengistu Haile Mariam fell in 1991, he and a group of former child soldiers flew back to Sudan.
“At this point, I realized that fighting would not help my country and left the SPLA to seek educational opportunities.”
Although Simon’s decision to leave the SPLA coincided with its split into two conflicting factions – a split that marked the divide of the Dinka and Nuer tribes in South Sudan – he had an opportunity to attend school for the first time in his life at the Kakuma refugee camp in Northwest Kenya with other child soldiers. With very little food to eat and no relatives to provide moral and material support, they were called the ‘Lost Boys.’
Through this difficult period in his life, Simon always kept with him the motivation to impact his country in a positive way – to find peaceful resolutions to the conflict that had wounded South Sudan. When he finished his education he decided to join the humanitarian world to help victims of violence and conflict.
“Given my personal experience, I believe there can’t be development without peace,” said Simon.
Today, Simon has turned his experiences as a child soldier into a lifelong commitment to helping others not only survive conflict, but create peace. He works with CARE staff to train them in ‘Do no harm’ principles and helps to solve and mitigate violence through peace committees which help local residents to solve conflicts – such as land disputes, dowry settlements, stolen cattle and grazing rights for cattle which make up the greatest source of income and livelihood for villagers – through resolution and reconciliation training methods while remaining aware of the sensitive aspects of conflict so as to not create more violence.
Although CARE has been working in areas that are still very insecure, they have been established in the communities and local customs for so long that communities know of them and accept their practices.
“I believe that almost five decades of war and conflict have had deep impacts on the South Sudanese population,” Simon said. “People are traumatized, scared and angry; when people only know conflict it is difficult for them to transfer to a peaceful society. It takes time to heal the scars, so we have a lot of work ahead of us to build a peaceful and stable South Sudan.”