Using Film to Heal the Wounds of War in South Sudan

As butterflies flutter over the drainage pond at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in South Sudan, Peter remembers those happier times when he and his family would take their cattle to the river for drinking.

“Then without warning, it all happened,” the young man recalls.

Actors dressed as warriors charge the pond and throw rocks, disturbing the peace and scaring the butterflies away: a simple but powerful metaphor for the civil war that has torn apart lives and forced millions from their homes.

This is a short film titled Jal Tekädä, The Journey of My Life, produced and performed by IDPs at the UN protection of civilians (PoC) site in Bentiu, a town that witnessed some of the most brutal fighting of the conflict. The film tells the story of young IDPs’ journey to seek forgiveness and healing from the vicious civil war that erupted in December 2013.

With more than 98,000 displaced persons living in a crowded base under the protection of the UN, South Sudanese have seen their social fabric destroyed and traditional coping mechanisms erased.

IOM’s psychosocial team is working with youth and adults at the site to help them address the effects of the crisis and protracted displacement on their psychosocial wellbeing.

At the Bentiu PoC site, IOM has supported the formation of 28 psychosocial support groups that utilize creative methodologies, such as theatre and music, to address psychosocial issues.

“Developed with community engagement, the groups provide a safe space for youth to reflect on their experiences, think of ways to address current problems in their daily lives and practice positive socialization,” explains Pauline Birot, IOM’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (PSS) Project Manager.

After observing that many IDPs in the the youth groups enjoyed theater as a form of expression, Pauline hired a film consultant to provide training on theater forum techniques and video development and editing. 20 participants were carefully selected from the youth group members to partake in the 15-day training.

PSS facilitators—selected from among the IDPs and trained on psychosocial support—used metaphors to engage the youth in a reflective process and promote positive ways of expressing feelings and emotions. From this, they developed the film, from scripting to filming to production. All of the actors in the video are IDPs themselves, and the entire music soundtrack was developed and recorded by the PSS musician group.

The theme of forgiveness is strong in the film, as IDPs proclaim “I have learned not to be angry because anger in itself is deadlier than the bullets that killed my father…my brother…most of my friends!”

The video can serve as a discussion tool with other youth in the Bentiu PoC site and other displaced camps across the country to promote intergenerational dialogues and peacebuilding processes. Using theatre ensures that the support is not just a passive transfer of information but rather an opportunity for youth to be actively and directly involved in their own healing process.

At the end of the film, after destroying the anger that burns in his heart, Peter looks to the sky and optimistically states that “the journey of my life is just beginning”—a hopeful gesture as thousands wait for peace and the chance to return home.

Watch the video here.