Risking His Life, Man Returns to South Sudan to Save Others

"Aid workers continue to be targeted by armed groups, but the empathy to help those in need keeps us motivated to navigate through the difficulties and save lives.”
Emily Chesnic August 17, 2018

Malish John Peter was fully aware of the existing safety issues and crisis situation in his native country of South Sudan when he dedicated himself to help alleviate suffering through humanitarian service.

His daily decision to provide help despite heightened conflict has nothing to do with gaining public recognition, however, and everything to do with spreading hope and restoring human dignity.

“Offering humanitarian aid in South Sudan is a matter of saving lives,” he told Humanity. To him, there is no worthier cause to which to dedicate his life.

The 2018 Aid Worker Security Report, released Aug. 13 by Humanitarian Outcomes, a consulting firm providing research and policy advice to humanitarian aid agencies, has ranked South Sudan as the most dangerous place for aid workers for the third consecutive year.

About one-third of the 158 major incidents of violence—against 313 aid workers in 22 countries last year—occurred in South Sudan, the youngest country in the world, according to the report.

“Yes, it is not easy to be a humanitarian worker in this country,” Peter said.

World Humanitarian Day, established by the United Nations, is observed annually on Aug. 19 to honor aid workers assisting people affected by crises around the world and those who have lost their lives or became injured during their service.

Finding Refuge, and Returning

Peter, himself, was born in Kupera, a small township just south-west of South Sudan, at the border of Uganda.

He grew up as a refugee in Uganda, where his parents escaped during the second South–North Sudan Civil War, from 1983–2005. Peter said the war, at that time, was fought between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army/Movement.

Malesh John Peter is a humanitarian aid worker in South Sudan. (Courtesy of Malesh John Peter)
Malish John Peter is a humanitarian aid worker in South Sudan. (Courtesy of Malish John Peter)

“I lost my dad in 1990, when I was 7-years-old, and was raised up by my mother,” he said.

“As a young man, today, I attribute my life achievements to the generous support of global charity organizations. My secondary education was sponsored by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees while in Uganda.”

“Later, I paid for my first degree in Uganda. In 2016–2017, I studied my Master of Public Policy at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom thanks to the Open Society Foundations’ scholarship.”

Today, Peter is married and is the father of 3-year-old twin daughters. He resides in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan, while the rest of his family resides in Arua, Uganda.

“This is mainly due to the unpredictable security situation in the country where it is unsafe to live with the entire family,” he said. “Equally, the lack of basic services, such as quality education and healthcare, has prompted myself and many other young South Sudanese to settle their families outside the country.”

Despite being separated from his family, Peter said he is proud to represent CARE, on the ongoing mission to offer life-saving interventions, including food, security and health services.

Conflict in South Sudan

The challenges in South Sudan are many.

“For example, the roads are too bad during the rainy season, so we spend nights on the way, which exposes our staff to already dire security risks.,” Peter said. “Aid workers continue to be targeted by armed groups, but the empathy to help those in need keeps us motivated to navigate through the difficulties and save lives.”

CARE staff stuck in the middle of a muddy road. Humanitarian operations are difficult during the rainy season as most roads are flooded and become mud pools. The only way to reach communities in need is through air transport, which is expensive.. (Courtesy of CARE)
CARE staff stuck in the middle of a muddy road. Humanitarian operations are difficult during the rainy season as most roads are flooded and become mud pools. The only way to reach communities in need is through air transport, which is expensive. (Courtesy of CARE)

The South Sudanese Civil War has been ongoing in the country since 2013, between forces of the government and opposition forces, making aid efforts difficult due to persistent violence, said officials with CARE, a global humanitarian organization providing disaster relief to areas in crisis and long-term solutions to poverty around the world.

The statistics of those in need and displaced in South Sudan are some of the worst in the world, Peter added.

“Today, 7 million people need humanitarian assistance, this is over half of the country’s population. More than 5.3 million, about 43 percent of the population, are food insecure. This number is expected to increase to nearly 7 million,” Peter told Humanity.

Most families in South Sudan don’t have food and are surviving on wild plants. About seven million people need humanitarian assistance this year. (Courtesy of CARE)
Most families in South Sudan don’t have food and are surviving on wild plants. About seven million people need humanitarian assistance this year. (Courtesy of CARE)

After encountering the work of CARE, Peter officially joined the organization’s efforts in South Sudan as a partnership adviser in July 2018. CARE currently works in 94 countries and has been present in South Sudan since 1993.

Peter’s work here involves getting people affected by crises to get involved in the humanitarian work and emergency relief CARE provides.

“One out of four South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, 1.9 million are displaced and 2.5 million fled to neighboring countries as refugees. About 85 percent of those displaced are women and children,” Peter explained. “CARE will continue to work in South Sudan to help rebuild livelihoods disputed by the ongoing conflict, offer critical medical support to the many children suffering from malnutrition and to protect the rights of women and girls from gender-based violence.”

Despite the signing of a new peace deal early August, peace is still elusive in South Sudan. Women and children are the most affected. So far, about four million people have been displaced due to the ongoing conflict. Women and children make 85 percent of those displaced by the war. (Courtesy of CARE)
Despite the signing of a new peace deal early August, peace is still elusive in South Sudan. Women and children are the most affected. So far, about four million people have been displaced due to the ongoing conflict. Women and children make 85 percent of those displaced by the war. (Courtesy of CARE)

Aligning With a Mission

“I feel special to be part of this team saving lives that would have been lost without our efforts in the remotest areas. Since the 2013 crises in South Sudan, CARE has reached more than 900,000 people in areas not easily accessed by humanitarian aid,” he said.

Old and vulnerable people have been the most affected by the ongoing war. Extreme levels of food insecurity has forced many to survive on wild plants. (Courtesy of CARE)
Old and vulnerable people have been the most affected by the ongoing war.
Extreme levels of food insecurity has forced many to survive on wild plants. (Courtesy of CARE)

Peter admits some days can be very difficult as an aid worker in South Sudan.

“It is not easy to balance between work requirements, family and thinking about the future of this country as a South Sudanese, but what keeps me going is hope and faith that South Sudan shall rise again despite the thorny road to rebuilding,” he said. “Each time I drive in the city and witness the increasing number of street children and the endurance of women and youth to survive makes me even more committed than ever to serve those in need.”

CARE is supporting women groups to form village banks. In South Sudan, it’s difficult for women to access small loans. The village banks has enabled them to save and get loans to start small business to help their family. In the picture, Rebecca from Torit is now into bead making and has managed to send her children to school from the profits she made after selling her products. (Courtesy of CARE)
CARE is supporting women groups to form village banks. In South Sudan, it’s difficult for women to access small loans. The village banks has enabled them to save and get loans to start small business to help their family. In the picture, Rebecca from Torit is now into bead making and has managed to send her children to school from the profits she made after selling her products. (Courtesy of CARE)

Peter said CARE specifically is focused on empowering women and girls in South Sudan, aiding them financially, to begin their own businesses, and providing them with psycho-social support for surviving physical and sexual violence.

Adau Asok Khor’s business is booming, thanks to CARE support and guidance on how to run a small business: “I have high standards which I always keep,” she said. “These are also observed by my employees.” (Women saving for peace in South Sudan)
Adau Asok Khor’s business is booming, thanks to CARE support and guidance on how to run a small business: “I have high standards which I always keep,” she said. “These are also observed by my employees.” (Women saving for peace in South Sudan)

Any individual around the world could join Peter and CARE in serving South Sudan by becoming an aid worker or through financial contributions, he said.

“Every $32 donated to CARE allows a woman to attend four prenatal visits and ensures she gives birth to a healthy baby. Every $55 provides a food voucher for a family for one month and every $150 can provide full nutritional support for malnourished child,” Peter said.