Akuja de Garang is awakening South Sudanese culture.
Akuja de Garang at home in Juba, South Sudan. Photography by Christina Reynolds.
Akuja de Garang was just eight years old when the war forced her family to flee South Sudan in 1983. But, in 2004, with a degree in African studies and a master’s in development from the University of London, she came back with a yearning to help rebuild her community. “Home is home,” she tells me with a faint British accent as we sip rosehip tea in the airy kitchen of her eclectically decorated home in the capital city of Juba. “This house was my mom’s,” she says quietly of the space she now shares with her husband, Papit, and their two dogs, Rumbek and Letsatsi. “It’s incredible that it wasn’t destroyed in the war.”
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After her return, de Garang spent a couple of years working for UNICEF on child-protection issues and a few more with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. She then juggled several consulting gigs for public-sector reform projects—she helped set up the new government’s payroll system—before she decided to create her own non-profit, Pach, last spring. “It’s a social enterprise meant to awaken creative identities,” she says. (“Pach” means “awakening” in a number of Nilotic languages.) “I’m fascinated by traditional South Sudanese crafts and artifacts, but because of the strain of civil war and inter-tribal violence, they are in danger of being lost. People don’t recognize the value of what they have—they have unique skills,” she says.
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