From the health sector as a laboratory technician to Activism
This Story identifies a Strong woman who broke grounds on different horizons and shattering glass, ceilings placed, in a nation stumped by chauvinism war, and underdevelopment, yet still never gave up but still overcame immense obstacles, to Rise.
Miss Lona was able to rise in her activism and human right Defence to greater heights despite restricted civic space in an ageist society that doesn’t promote women, despite the fact that the government has mandated a 35 percent quota for women, Cultural resistance to change, inclusion and participation challenges.
South Sudan is an emerging nation and within it has its set of emerging leaders. It is the responsibility of a dynamic nation to recognize its people from Generation to generation.
With the fact that, we believes in the resilience and capacity of young women to rebuild their lives in spite of many scarce resources and a lack of visibility, to support a community of young women in South Sudan to self-organize so they can provide for their families, become self-sufficient, and integrate in their local community, as RIWA, we thought we could share Lona’s story.
As an activist and human right defender, Lona’s activism is not the human right defenders approach, it is quite broad. Last year she was awarded the Francol German award, for human right defenders, and one of the things that we found fascinating is her approach, because she is neither taking people out to safe places nor facilitating their support, but looking at facilitating the space for, and translate to different price, but people’s ability to speak their minds and be them, and to some extent, she introduces herself as a senior political right activist.
Lona thought that civil society organization was suitable, because they are an organization that focuses on government and democracy, conflict mitigation and gender main streaming, and that shapes everything that she believes.
“we have elections that have stood alone in focus areas, because of where we started from, we started as a domestic election monitoring.
“I live my life as activist am un-apologetic about it, it is a voluntary work and, you must be asking how I pay my bills, I have a son, I always do consultancies, and that’s were I get paid”.
Miss Lona trained as a laboratory technologist which is completely away from what she does or is doing, the longest she spent in a laboratory was during her internship period, and ever since her coming back to south Sudan, she was championing and thinking of streamlining the public health sector, and her area of entry was streamlining, the citification of workers in public places, and that includes food actors, and the way it was happening.
“I felt that there are a lot of gaps which needs to be under worked, but I got frustrated and I abandoned that, and I actually cried”. With deep breath Lona explained.
In the start of her journey in 2009, Miss Lona worked at the ministry of health at the directorate of HIV for a short time, but then towards late 2010, got carried away with the activism work, and actually left the ministry, because the referendum was quite important and required full attention, in other words was not able to divide herself, and ever since she has never gone back to any health sector to do something of her academic professional background.
But Miss Lona still believes that the knowledge is very important, because knowledge about the health sector, is what propelled her to come up with the citizen task force.
“ I don’t know if you heard of us, it’s yet another crazy idea, but it came as a result of a frustration seeing how covid 19 is a pandemic, and being a bio- medical technologist, I know how fast viruses can spread, this is not something that can be handled casually, it requires proper focus and planning, as the country was travelling the early days, I came told colleagues and said, with this pandemic the country needs to run all practitioners and scientists, in the health sector to figure out how best we can protect ourselves, I thought of volunteering at the public health laboratory, I know I am not practicing but I can do research and develop standard operation procedures but my colleague asked me, if you go you are an individual, we need you, can’t you contribute from here? And that was a turning point for me”
There were few people who expressed frustration of how the issue was being miss handled, so lona and her colleagues decided to use the energy in the space they were used to, they mobilized voices and empowered citizens which is the mission of the organization they formed, what they did was, quickly developed what they call the “carryall call” and sent out calls for people to come together regardless of differences since Covid 19 know no. Lona clearly knew if everybody who is living here does not handle it well, it will affect all guess how crazy ii could be.
In her personal level, Miss Lona clearly says she dislike people who are not honest and are not honest just for the sake and expressed her love for nature.
“That is un-acceptable, and doesn’t work in my space. I am a very oral person, I talk a lot, and I like constructive engagement which leads somewhere, and that connects that, every things has to have an objective, Were you see me just floating around that’s just not me, One other thing is that I love plants, when you come to my small piece of land, I have right now over 80 flower plants though I don’t have time for some of them, I just love them, nature is beautiful.
When having mentorship session with young people, she always tells them to have a reason for whatever they do. “even taking a glass of water to drink, if you ask me Lona why are you taking that glass I have reason for it, all what you are doing don’t do it just for the sake”.
Well from high school, Lona loved sciences, so naturally as a young girl she had to shape her thinking and found herself with an exiting course that was offer in the university of Nairobi yet most of the sponsors and the society were suggesting her going to the catholic university, and that’s where she would be taken, because national universities are hard to get into.
But then she found the course being offered by the University of Nairobi, applied for it, and got the admission. Miss Lona thinks, the need and interest to serve people is what drew her attention to that, and one of the best moment she expressed during her internship is when a person comes in as a patient, and they were able to serve this person and gets proper treatment.
“I remember, I used to meet some of my patients in some supermarkets, and somebody would come and tap me and say “hey do you remember helping me on this?”………you look at the person compared to the patient you saw, the difference is big, that for me is satisfactory. Generally serving people is my motivation”.
In her early life, Lona was mentored into activism, by her late mother by default, because she was involved so much in the movement. During the time of the movement, they referred to them as commissioners, and Lona’s mother happened to be the commissioner for women, gender and, child welfare which grew up in the ministry for gender child and social welfare. Being close to her mother, right after high school, Lona started helping with typing her mother’s speeches, sometimes tagging along when she was going to have meetings.
“As a scientist, it is a certain level of curiosity that drew me to a lot of places”. Says Lona
When Lona’s mother was going to the SPLA/M Convention, in 1994, the journey was towards the end of the year as schools closed for a long period of time, her mother was diabetic and needed somebody to help, and Lona went along with her, and that is how close they were. It started right from primary school called Itiri Primary school in Maridi, where her mother was the headmistress, They went to the convention that engaged a lot of conversations among the delegates was all-around national politics,
“I remember even before Maridi was captured, by SPLA/M they could snick the mane festal into our house and they would read and read, and right after that we would also snick in and read. We discovered what was happening in that house really needed to be documented, and some of us pick interest quickly, and my interest to do things for the country started growing, but since then when you are a part of something it gets into you and that was when my activism and interest to do things for the country, and my political names started growing, and then CPA was signed of course you know how south Sudanese got excited, but then we were in Nairobi with a number of young people and we too as young people were having our conversations, about this country and running on the sidelines, and as I was standing along with them, I remember during the negotiation time in 2004, when towards the end of CPA, women went to Naivasha, I remembered sitting and drafting some of these statements and writing, and once you write something, it gets into you, I think that was when it got into me.”
By then, there existed the commission for health headed by Marial who was amazing and organized as expressed by Lona, she even wished, that when people got independent he was given the ministry of health and those were the few commissions that had head offices in Nairobi. The others did not have a strong presence and operated from the SPLM office, including the RRC (Rehab and rehabilitation commission).
Those 5 offices she could remember. The other sections of the movement operated from the SPLM office, and that connected her so much to the liberation.
“I was once telling Pagan Amum in 2014, 2015 that, you guys let us down because we looked so much up to you when we’re growing u because when these guys would speak, you feel like Khartoum was gone, one of the things they used to talk about was, “we are struggling for justice, liberty and prosperity for all“, now you are here have you done it? I think they dint like it. It was very strong and that was where the connection started.” Lona Challenged
“My mother had been key in moulding me, up to date, I still see her as a very strong woman in who I am, and that gave me an opportunity to meet and learn from so many people, for example, people like Dr Ann, those days of the movement, there was so much energy that came with Dr Ann and Prof Alfred lokuji. Those two really stood out for me because of the level of how professional they were. When both of them were facilitating a workshop, you will know clearly where they are going and it would bring out something, so those are a few people I got exposed to.”
Challenges faced in career and its mitigation.
“First of all, the fact that am a biomedical technologist, and doing what moves predominantly, like social science, political science, the law sometimes people find it difficult to understand me, because the society will want to place you as a lawyer, doctor etc because of what am doing, blending in without a title but doing what needs to be done, and that is a little bit challenging, but how I mitigate it is, by doing my groundwork properly and having my facts of what am doing,”
Lona further stressed her passion, and the fact that she doesn’t like dishonesty, because you find yourself in moments you have said things that you were not to have said, the country context is, unfortunately, is not conducive to some level of honesty and I find this sometimes challenging because I have a strong conviction to call a spade a spade, but knowing that calling it a spade may cause bruise some were so how do you navigate that, it’s a lesson I keep learning every day.