By Justin Mhaka
South Sudanese supermodel Nykhor Paul believes much more should be done to save lives in South Sudan.
The north-eastern African country, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, after a 20-year long armed struggle, has been devastatingly ravaged by civil conflict.
A staggering 5.1 million people require humanitarian assistance in this country, whose dark narrative contradicts the potential independence from South Sudan so glowingly promised. Up to 2.6 million people have been displaced – this includes 1.6 million internal refugees, in addition to 720 000 refugees living in neighbouring countries – and tens of thousands of have been killed since December 2013, according to the United Nations Office for The Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Paul, whose family lives in Sudan, moved to the USA as a very young girl.
And she is a very successful model: Paul used to be the face of Louis Vuitton.
The South Sudanese beauty represents Wilhelmina Models, one of the world’s leading modelling agencies.
Paul lives in New York, far from the civil war tearing her young country apart. Now, she has embarked on a social media campaign to unite the feuding factions in South Sudan.
“I’ve been regularly posting about the recent unrest in South Sudan on my social media platforms, especially Instagram. My posts have got thousands of likes, but there’s still so much more to do in terms of awareness – which is my primary aim.”
Social media awareness of South Sudan’s protracted war conflict is low, as the conflict appears to fly under the radar most of the times.
“Although more than 300 people have been killed this month in South Sudan, and the clear tension between President Salva Kiir and former vice-President Riek Machar has threatened to revive the civil war that my family fled – the one that killed tens of thousands of people – South Sudan stories do not trend. Hashtags like #PrayForSouthSudan don’t tend to go viral”.
Paul was born in Akobi in southern Sudan in 1989. She fled Sudan, along with her family in 1996, when the second Sudanese civil war began.
The family settled in a refugee camp situated near the border with Ethiopia. Hoping to secure a better life for their daughter, Paul’s parents decided to send her to America.
She left for America with her uncle. It was a rather daunting experience for a young, African girl.
“I came to the States in 1998 – to Nebraska. It wasn’t easy by any means, I was put into foster care and had to get my head around learning English.When I was 14 I got ‘discovered’ by a modelling agency.”
Because of her refugee status, Paul couldn’t travel easily. So she didn’t see her parents, who still live in the same refugee camp, for the next 18 years.
Paul attained her American citizenship in 2014 and traveled to South Sudan then.
She believes comparisons can be drawn between the civil tensions afflicting American society and the civil war ravaging South Sudan.
“Right now South Sudan is seen as so far away and distant by many who live in America. But what’s happening in South Sudan, with unarmed black people being killed by authority figures, is actually very much the same issue as what we’ve seen happen in America. And the way to help is to create a healthy peaceful dialogue between each other through education and care for our collective wellbeing.”