Deborah Mapuordit, 24, a graduate of international relations and diplomacy, had almost lost hope after seeing her country, South Sudan, descend into a bloody conflict about five years ago.
She was among thousands of South Sudanese who thronged a stadium in the capital of Juba on Sunday to witness the fourth National Unity Day (NUD) sports event that attracted athletes from different regions and ethnic groups.
Mapuordit told reporters that the sports gala left an impression on many youth, hence igniting hope for a bright future as South Sudanese from different background mingled, interacted and enjoyed games together, which was a rare spectacle during the five-year-long civil strife.
“There is a saying that no condition is permanent. The situation now is not the same as it was in 2013, we are changing slowly by slowly and I am very happy to see South Sudanese uniting themselves,” said Mapuordit
“I was staying in Uganda and found out that Ugandans are more united than we South Sudanese. Whenever I used to come back to South Sudan I used to feel like this is not my country, but now I feel like a South Sudanese,” she added.
Mapuordit said that many South Sudanese are this time hopeful of the revitalized peace agreement signed by the various warring groups in September in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
“It (unity) is not what I am seeing but it is what everyone is seeing and we really feel it inside our hearts that we are coming together,” said Mapuordit.
South Sudan in late October held peace celebrations in the capital that was graced by prominent opposition leaders like Riek Machar, who prior to signing peace agreement, had been reported to be fighting President Salva Kiir’s government.
Gai Makol, 21, a student from Bor town in northern Jonglei region that was affected by the conflict, said the sports event has managed to bring them together to share diverse ideas and getting to know each other.
“This tournament is good because all the participants from all the states are in one environment, we do share ideas, stay together and interact,” said Gai.
“We are now here together for the same thing we shall take to our communities. We shall unite all the communities back home and tell them we need to make peace,” he added.
Simon Barnaba, 45, a teacher from Eastern Equatoria region which borders Uganda and Kenya, said the NUD will bring peace and coexistence among South Sudanese.
It was fantastic to see love among youth when people saw boys enjoying themselves from Upper Nile, Eastern Equatoria and other regions, said Barnaba.
Salah Rajab, minister of culture, youth and sports in Jubek State, said sports is very effective tool that brings happiness, joyfulness and good things to the community.
“When we engage our youth to such kind of activities, I am sure we are engaging them also to fight bad habits among them,” he said.
Yien Oral Lam Tut, South Sudan’s higher education minister, said the NUD is one of the unique activities annually organized by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports for national reconciliation.
“It promotes unity, social cohesion through sports especially after a long conflict that our people have been through and still find themselves in,” he said.
“This event is taking place at the time our country and people are seeing the dividends of the comprehensive peace,” Tut added.
David Shearer, head of United Nations Mission in South Sudan, said he was hopeful that the unity day had positive impact on the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement.
“There is something to celebrate this unity day because just a few months ago there was a peace agreement that was signed and the progress has been good,” he said.
He commended the opposition’s courage to come into South Sudan to build and talk about peace.
“As I travel around the country I see the same sort of peace agreements going on at the local level,” he added. Enditerm.