Mary Padar Athac, who is from the Dinka tribe of Lakes State, had been associated with the Sudan People's Liberation Army since 1984. She cooked and moved with the military until she was demobilized from the military in 2010. The ROOTS PROJECT recruited her as part of a social reintegration program. As a member she is known as a "haboba" or grandmother and is the only one who knows how to make the beautiful Dinka corsets. She is teaching this traditional art to younger members. Padar represented the Centre in July, 2012 at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.
Elizabeth Juang moved to Khartoum in 1982, a year before the second civil war broke out in 1983 and remained there until June 2011, just before Independence. She moved back to her village in Pibor, South Sudan but her hopes for a peaceful future were dashed when her village was attacked on Christmas Day 2011. ‘People kept saying, ‘they are coming, they are coming’ but we remained in church praying.’ Then they (the attackers) came and there was shooting everywhere. I ran with my children, both of whom were born in Khartoum and had never experienced anything like this. We were in the bush for 7 days without food or water. One day we came across a puddle with dirty water and when I gave it to one of my sons, he asked me, ‘Mama, what is this? Is it custard?’ I said, ‘No, my son, its water from God, drink it.’ That is how we survived. We made it to safety and then we moved to Juba.
Elizabeth has been a member of the ROOTS Project since April 2012. She is a strong voice at the Center, condemning all tribal violence and emphasizing that people just suffer the same.
Mit lived in Khartoum for the majority of the 1983 - 2005 civil war. She moved to Juba in March 2010 and started work with the ROOTS Project in February 2012 as a beader. She was supporting her children while her husband lived and worked in Malakal, Upper Nile State, South Sudan.
When the conflict broke out near her house in December 2013, she was at home with her children. Since then her life has changed completely once again and she explains, ‘I live in fear and pain for the losses my family members have endured.’ She spent several weeks thinking her husband was dead when she could not contact him and two of his brothers are still missing. Her husband though, had taken refuge at the UN camp in Malakal and eventually made his way to Juba. She is now the sole breadwinner for her family.
Martha was in Jonglei, her hometown, when the war broke out on December 15th, 2014. She describes what happened, "It came as a dream for me then I thought it was the Northerners that came back to attack us. But unfortunately, learning from my older son that there was a war going on. I didn't think a minute, grabbed my children and ran after people. Not sure where we were going, we then found ourselves all together at the UN compound. Then came the process of being brought to Juba UN House. I can't believe this is real; the whole process looks like just yesterday." She lost nine of her siblings in Juba when the war broke out.
She now lives in a camp with four of her children and the other three are in the Kakuma camp. She divided her family because if anything happened to them, they can keep the family name alive.
She describes her work with The ROOTS PROJECT, "The work has given me opportunity to gain happiness. I react with my fellow tribal women. We do beadwork, learn different skills, joke, laugh, eat together and most of the times we sing and advise one another when one of us is sad or going through difficulties. The little earning I receive from the beadwork helps me provide my children with what they like. I feel I brought back happiness on their faces. And they encourage me to continue with the beadwork because they also see change in me."
Sara Jok is a 53 year old widowed, mother of six, from the Jonglei state. She remembers the outbreak of the war, "I remembered I was at my village and sleeping outside under a tree. Then suddenly I heard lots of screaming, calling out and gunshots. At first I thought I was dreaming. Then I heard my daughter calling out for me to run. From there, I can't remember anything until we arrived at the UN camp. I'm still lost and recovering from the past."
She says "Everyday is an opportunity for me because I thought I will die or be killed anytime. I don't trust anyone, especially those not from my tribe. I just stay home and go for worship once in a while. My mind is not stable."
When she first learned about The ROOTS PROJECT, she was hesitant, but after meeting Ruth, the director, decided to try working with the PROJECT. She describes her experience, “The first day was difficult, I don’t interact with the women. But as we continue with work, our interaction became more intimate and I felt confident and relaxed. I learned a lot from the group besides beadwork. We call ourselves as one family. I became more comfortable after seeing the Founder of the ROOTS PROJECT - Ms. Anyieth. She is Dinka, and very beautiful and normal. I got convinced that we are victims of war. From there, I gain trust that women will bring peace."
Akwar is from Anyuak tribe in South Sudan. She is 54 years old with children and a husband, but separated from her family after the 2013 crisis. After she heard of the ROOTS Project at the camp she came for an interview. She was definitely accepted as a member of ROOTS. Though she is the oldest among the women, she is determined to do more in her life. She does bead work and attends the Literacy and Numeracy classes. She once shared that the project has brought her joy and peace. She said, she just used to stay home, think about her family and have no friends to talk to. But now, the project allowed her to be recognized by the rest of the women, gain friendship and most important gave her therapy (she cried). About the classes, she said she had never been in school before, but now she can write her name and feel confident especially when she goes for food pick up and her name is called out, she shouts "yes sir, am here".
She said I am so happy now, my age can't limit me. Akwar's dream is to one day be outside the camp and unite with her family. "I missed them a lot and wasn't sure whether they are alive or dead"