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South Sudan: supermodel draws world’s attention to crisis at home

“I’m Nuer, but I’m not a tribe, I’m South Sudanese. I
know the resilience of the tribes, but I believe that when the South
Sudanese come together, our resilience and determination will be greater
than what divides us. I’m stepping out with fellow models from South
, representing various tribes, to show that on the world scale, the
tribe you come from doesn’t matter. Hopefully this shows the unity and
pride that we should have in ourselves; the peace that can be formed if
we put down our weapons and ancient hostilities, we can move up and
progress. We are not Nuer or Dinka, we are South Sudan, we are Nilotic
(of the Nile).”

This defiant statement comes from supermodel Nykhor Paul who has recently launched a campaign to turn the world’s attention to the crisis in South Sudan.

Working with world class photographer Mike Mellia, she has given voice, along with a few of her fellow high profile South Sudanese, to the plight of their beloved country.

South Sudan campaign 1
Supermodel Ajak Deng was 14 when she fled the civil war in South Sudan with her parents and seven siblings, finding shelter in a Kenyan refugee camp. The family eventually obtained refugee status in Australia. Photograph: Mike Mellia

For an exhibition in
April in New York, Mellia produced a portrait of the anguish that
haunts the lives of those South Sudanese who have managed to escape,
and through them, of the lives of those they left behind… born of a
desire to tell the story of South Sudan by moving beyond the limitations
of the media through the raw and emotive power of art.

Paul’s heart is to inform a global audience and raise awareness of the war currently happening in Sudan. The United Nations this week condemned “the targeted killings of civilians based on their ethnic origins and nationality” in a disputed town that is under the control of anti-government forces.

South Sudan campaign 2
Model Eligha Ojoko also escaped South Sudan at a young age, travelling through the Middle East before eventually arriving in Pittsburgh, US. Photograph: Mike Mellia

“I want to inform the youth and the world about the situation,
because it is so important — it has parallels with the genocide that took
place in Rwanda,” says Paul. “The fighting is between tribes, the two biggest being
the Dinka and Nuer. South Sudan was fighting for their independence from
the North, for generation. To fall back into this type of conflict
against itself, is disheartening and tragic.”

“I’m trying to help them
see past their tribalism and the fighting, to become more aware of the
current issues that are effecting the entire planet, not just a small
minority. They need to understand that the world is larger than their
tribes. When I travel around the world, to Paris, Germany, wherever,
people just notice that I’m a tall, dark skinned girl and wonder ‘Are
you from Sudan?’ I don’t have to mention my tribe, they really don’t
care about that.”

“My message to the tribe is that we are one, we are
We are people that came from an old civilisation, we are smart,
and we are resourceful.”

South Sudan
It’s not just models taking part. Manyang Reath is Founder of Humanity Helping Sudan, which sends aid home with the help of corporate sponsors. He lived in refugee camps along the border between Ethiopia and South Sudan for 13 years before going to America. Photograph: Mike Mellia

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