South Sudanese women crafting a future together
“The money I am earning here makes it possible for me to support my family. It takes away the feeling of death, or starving to death”, says Mary Padar, one of the women earning a living through traditional South Sudanese arts and crafts, as part of the Roots Project.
The women employed through the Roots Project are sitting together around a long table at the Roots Centre in downtown Juba. Their hands are working constantly, while quiet conversation flows back and forth between the women. They are creating jewelry and textile, based on traditional designs from different parts of South Sudan. Their products are sold in a store at the Centre, online and through agents in the US.
60 women from 19 different tribes are members of the Centre
Each member’s income supports 6-10 family members
27 women attend literacy and math classes three times a week
The members of the centre are served 2 healthy meals per day
15 children as young as three months come to the Centre with their mothers
75 women have received emergency assistance from the Centre
“We are paid in full for whatever we sell. The money is helping me support my family, covering the costs when they are sick”, Mary says.
Connecting to other tribes
More than 60 women from 19 different tribes are members of the Centre. They all have one thing in common: They carry stories of war, violence, loss and replacement. Many of them are the sole providers of their family, their husband killed in the war or living on the other side of the country. Some of the women are orphans, others are young mothers.
The Roots Project was started in 2009, aiming to provide vulnerable women with a safe space and the opportunity to make a living while they are processing trauma. The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, as well as the Norwegian labour unions Fellesorganisasjonen, Norsk Transportarbeiderfobund and Industri Energi are important donors.
In addition to providing trainings and material for the crafting, Roots gives literacy and math classes, two meals a day and child care so that the women can bring their young children to work.
Equally important are the conversations and the strong bond formed between the women while working together. At the Roots Centre, the women find community and connection across tribal lines, tribes that have a long history of conflict.
“Before I joined the project I had a feeling of hatred. Since I joined, these feelings have gone away. I found that women from all tribes are joined together here, and they all have a loving heart. I feel connected to them, and we move forward together”, says Joyce Archangelo, another member og the Centre.
A lot has changed for Joyce after she joined Roots. The earnings enables her to send her kids to school, her health is better, and she is thinking less about the difficult past.
“It was difficult before, but now at least there are people who understand the situation, who are thinking ahead for us. This is how I became who I am today, and I am very happy”, she says.
Building South Sudanese pride
After a new war broke out in 2013, the Roots Project have extended their activities to the UN-driven camps for internally displaces people. Violence between ethnic groups has made it difficult for women of different tribes in the camps to trust each other. But with time, they are connecting through working and talking together.
The women in the project decide for themselves when they want to leave Roots. Some of them move back to their villages, a few open their own shops selling arts and crafts.
“Our jewelry and textiles are very popular, because they are building pride around the cultural traditions that can be found in South Sudan. The products are often used for example for weddings, says Ruth Lugor, the manager of the centre in Juba.