For my 1st mission of 2020 I visited South Sudan.

This is the youngest country in the world: not only did it gain independence in 2011, but 73.7% of the population is also under the age of 30!

In the airport, I was welcomed by singers and dancers, as well as delegations from the Government, the UN System and representatives from youth organisations. What a warm and colourful welcome!

I started my first day in Juba meeting the United Nations Political Mission and Country Team to discuss the implementation of the United Nations Youth Strategy, #Youth2030. I also met with representatives from the South Sudan Ministry of Youth, Culture, and Sports, and the Ministry of Labor, Public Service & Human Resource Development. We agreed on the importance of quality education and the role young people play in ensuring sustainable peace and good governance. Then, I took part in the launch of a new project to strengthen young women’s participation in peace processes in South Sudan. This project is supported by the UN Peace Building Fund and the launch was timely as it coincides with the ongoing peace process for the country South Sudan. I highlighted the importance of inclusive peace processes that include diverse stakeholder groups and hope this project will contribute to transformed attitudes toward young women in peacebuilding. I was also interviewed by two amazing young journalists from Search for Common Ground‘s ‘Youth Talk’ project!

To end my first day I joined a Youth Townhall at the University of Juba with young people online and offline. There, young entrepreneurs, refugees, activists, politician and academics engaged in a vibrant discussion on:
– The importance of safe space for civil society and freedom of expression, particularly as it related to the protection of human rights defenders;
– The need for solidarity amongst different youth group;
– The importance of equal representation and transparency within youth structures;
– And the necessity for us all to fight discriminatory barriers hindering participation in politics – particularly for women!

On my second day in Juba, I visited a Youth and Adolescent Training Centre in the Protection of Civilians (POC1) Site, which is accommodating more than 7500 internally displaced people. The Centre supports young people out-of-school with resilience building and skills like baking, sewing and IT – it is so important to create opportunities like these for the marginalised groups of young people. I also visited a one-stop center for survivors of Gender-Based Violence (GBV). The outbreak of conflict in 2013 and 2016 in South Sudan exacerbated the prevalence of GBV and it is estimated that 65% of women and girls in South Sudan have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. I was deeply moved by the stories I heard and the tireless work of staff and partners. Centres like this one should be more accessible to women and girls across the country and I hope more funds can be channeled to prevention efforts.

I had the pleasure of attending the launch the South Sudan State of Youth and Adolescent Report, developed under the leadership of UNFPA South Sudan and UNESCO South Sudan, which presents key findings in the areas of health, education, employment, participation, social protection and other issues that directly or indirectly impact on the life and well-being of South Sudan’s young people. Having accurate data – disaggregated by age and gender – is key for relevant intervention. This report is an important step in that direction.

I then met with the Youth Caucus of the South Sudanese Parliament for a discussion on young people’s challenges and positive role in the ongoing peace process, and the legislative agenda of particular relevance – such as the National Youth Policy. Following that, I attended an intergenerational dialogue with amazing women political leaders of South Sudan organised by UN Women. Although women account for over 60% of the population in South Sudan – most of whom are young – they are still underrepresented in politics and peace efforts. In the spirit of #GenerationEquality, I highlighted the importance of engaging young women in political spaces and encouraged the older women politicians to act as mentors and to charter the path to make their political parties more gender inclusive.

On day 3, I visited the Torit State, one of the most volatile and conflict-prone areas in South Sudan. Besides meeting with the Local Government, the main purpose of my visit was to launch a new Vocational Training Centre for Vulnerable Youth under the Ministry of Education. I also engaged with Torit’s women entrepreneurs who are dominant in the local markets, and young people from the most marginalised backgrounds. Back in Juba young people joined me to participate remotely in a youth dialogue with the United Nations Secretary-General on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations. They shared their thoughts on young people’s driving power of shaping the future of the UN.

On day 4, I attended an Inter-generational Dialogue on young people’s role in South Sudan’s transformation, after which I went to my first wrestling match! Young wrestlers came together from all over South Sudan to compete for National Unity Day using sports to overcome differences between communities, end violence, and build peace.

As always when I travel on missions, I did a range of interviews of engagements with the press. One of my favourite interactions was the Breakfast Show onRadio Miraya, which is operated by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

Lastly, I was happy to get to visit AnaTaban South Sudan Art Initiative, where young people use their creativity to build peace. We had a great discussion about arts – street theatre, graffiti, murals, poetry – as a way to deal with the collective trauma of a nation that has gone through conflict.

All in all, I left South Sudan believing even more that young people are the torchbearers of development, unity and peace.