Updated: Nov 12, 2019
On Wednesday Sept. 17, 2019, Meredith alumna Dr. Susan Montgomery opened her lecture, “Healing Trauma in South Sudan,” with this quote by Emtithal Mahmoud: “When your existence is in an act of defiance, live.” Her lecture was a discussion of her time as a counselor working with different trauma groups in Sudan.
South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011; however, the people of South Sudan are nowhere near free. With over 50 distinct ethnic groups residing in South Sudan, and with different religious beliefs, access to weapons and scarce resources, violence has become a prevalent issue. The United Nations estimates that due to the violence, four million people have been driven from their homes and have become refugees in neighboring countries or reside in Internal Displacement Camps.
Life in South Sudan is especially harrowing if you are a woman. In South Sudan, rape is used as a weapon of war among different tribes. By raping a woman from an opposing tribe, you have soiled not only her, but also the honor of her tribe. Women are expected to marry young; 20 percent of girls under the age of 15 are married in South Sudan. Women are often subjected to abuse and neglect by their partners. Younger women are often married to wealthy older men who have enough cattle to pay the bride price. Many people in South Sudan don’t believe that rape is possible within a marraige, which leaves many women helpless from their abusers.
Dr. Montgomery was first inspired to take action in 2006 after The Meredith Poll she watched the movie Hotel Rwanda and read the book They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky by Benson Deng. Dr. Montgomery earned her bachelor’s degree in history from Meredith College in 1969. During her visits to South Sudan, Dr. Montgomery and her group held sessions that used the Morning Star Curriculum for Mental Health. According to Dr. Montgomery, “Trauma is an overwhelming experience that impairs your ability to function,” and she stated that “25 to 35 percent of South Sudanese people would reach the requirements for a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder.” The program material provides information to peer support groups as well as trauma awareness for health providers. It also discusses the various issues that cause trauma, such as poverty, bride price, gender, health and lack of education.
In an interview with Dr. Montgomery, she stated, “My time at Meredith College prepared me for my time in South Sudan by giving me the ability to focus on how things came to be the way they are, and history courses helped me to understand compassion and think about how other people are, and encouraged me to think things through many different perspectives.” Her favorite memory of her time in South Sudan was a Saturday morning when she was able to watch people go down to the Nile to do their laundry. This is her favorite due to the importance of being able to look into another culture and experience it. When asked what advice she would like to give other Meredith women on pursuing their goals she said “You can do this too; find your passion and follow it. See where it takes you.”
By Rachel Van Horne, Staff Writer