A South Sudanese female activist who was nominated in July among ten contenders of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) Award is the overall winner of the institute’s inaugural 2020 Women Building Peace Award.
Executive Director and Co-founder of Eve Organization for Women Development, Rita Martin Lopidia, was on Wednesday, September 16 recognized for leading a coalition of women’s organizations to champion women’s participation in the 2018 revitalized peace agreement in South Sudan.
USIP selected Lopidia two months ago for her years of peace activism in the East Central African nation alongside three other African women in the global competition.
Following her announcement as first recipient of the inaugural competition during a virtual ceremony that was hosted by USIP earlier last week, the 38-year-old peace ambassador acknowledged the contribution made by the leadership of the South Sudanese Bishops’ secretariat.
“I want to thank the Catholic Church in general for being generous with us, giving us the space, the skills and also the protection in an environment that has been very tough,” Ms. Lopidia said during a surprise welcome party that was organized in her office located at the Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
Showing gratitude to the Secretary General of the South Sudanese Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat (SSCBS), Ms. Lopidia said, “I want to give thanks to Fr. Charles Abbud for being with us, supporting us throughout this journey from the day we came to Juba in 2008 up to this moment.”
“We want to just say we are grateful that the Church has been in this journey with us as we search for peace and stability in this country,” she said.
Ms. Lopidia was recognized in the award ceremony that featured 10 other finalists that the Women Building Peace Council selected from more than 150 nominees representing 51 countries.
Addressing staff in front of her offices at the Bishops’ Secretariat in Juba, the Eve Organization for Women Development co-founder said, “I am really overwhelmed for this great day and I didn’t see it coming but it is something planned by God.”
“A big thank you to the USIP for recognizing the work of South Sudanese women and to all the South Sudanese women who have been working hard to ensure there is peace in this country,” she said and added, “I want to thank the staff and my colleagues at Eve organization for the tireless work, the long days and nights we put into ensuring that women are represented at peace processes.”
“My message to my fellow South Sudanese women is that we have come this far but we still have a long way to go to ensure that there is genuine peace where every child, every South Sudanese woman and every South Sudanese citizen would feel at peace in this country so that we enjoy the resources and the gifts that flow with milk and honey,” she said.
The peace activist appealed to the leaders of the nine-year-old nation to put an end to violence and embrace peaceful means of conflict resolution.
“To our leaders in this country, I want to send you the message that let us put the hostilities to an end; let us dialogue; enough is enough of the suffering of the people of South Sudan,” she said, and added, “I ask you to give peace a chance, a peace that is not about positions but a peace that puts the people of South Sudan first.”
Advocating for practical peace through developmental projects in South Sudan, she explained, “When there are good roads people will know there is peace; when there is freedom of movement, people will know there is peace; when there is security in the country, people will go about doing their businesses.”
“People want to see the dividends of peace and therefore I call upon all the parties that it is time we invest in peace and no more killing and shedding blood in this country,” Ms. Lopidia pleaded.
“For the young girls of South Sudan, this journey started when I was at the age 23 and there are so many girls aged 23 in this country and I want to tell you that you can do it and make South Sudan a better place,” the 38-year-old South Sudanese peace ambassador said.