In Southern Sudan, every aspect of life presents its people with opportunities to move forward together, building the foundation of a new nation. On my recent deployment there to support the U.S. government's work to ensure the region's peaceful transition to an independent country, I learned that even the smallest everyday decisions people make have an impact on the future of Southern Sudan.
The Civilian Response Corps's work supports the U.S. Consulate General in Juba by applying a blend of traditional and expeditionary diplomatic tools to partner with what will become the world's newest nation. Along with other Corps members, I regularly visit the most remote regions of Southern Sudan to expand and develop relationships with everyone from state governors to tribal elders, as well as international partners and civil society organizations, to support the U.S. government's intensified diplomatic and development efforts. In Southern Sudan, this is no easy task. We must fly, drive, and walk in order to arrive at a key meeting -- perhaps with a tribal chief and often under the shade of a tree -- to better grasp the country's many challenges and opportunities.
To help carry out this mission, I spend the majority of my time travelling to three bordering states in Southern Sudan: Unity, Warrap, and Lakes. All three are connected by complex conflict issues such as ever-present cross-border cattle raiding -- a source of income, identity and conflict -- in addition to issues that stem from North-South relations with Khartoum. Part of my job is to understand the most pressing conflict dynamics the states are facing, and report on how these issues might affect U.S. government policy and programs.
For example, fellow Civilian Response Corps members James Patton and Marie Pace and I spent a seven-hour drive over arduous roads accompanied by the Wildlife Police, County Commissioner and the Lakes State's Advisor for Peace and Reconciliation to explore how state authorities are managing its natural resources, which can be a driver of conflict or a tool for economic growth and stabilization, in the Wulu County national park.
In the park, we saw four hippos as well as opportunities for micro-businesses in honey and Shea butter, but perhaps more importantly, the ride allowed us to build a relationship with local officials. We not only discussed how they plan to manage the national park but also explored how they approach security and governance in the country. This is the kind of diplomacy that helps the United States prevent conflict and promote regional stability in complex and fragile environments, such as Southern Sudan, by partnering with local leaders to think through the complex challenges they face. It takes this kind of persistent, face-to-face contact to really gain an understanding of the pivotal issues.
We organized our trip to give the newly appointed county commissioner an opportunity to meet constituents and extend the reach of government. Throughout the tour, he was able to connect directly to the people of Wulu County and give them a chance to connect to their government.
The people of Southern Sudan know that they are at a crucial point in their country's history. The next few months will determine the shape of the world's newest democracy and the fragile peace it promises to a society ravaged by decades of war. While the nation certainly faces many challenges, I was inspired by the resiliency I saw in the Sudanese.