"Criminals, thieves, violent people. That's how we, the youth, were referred to during the conflict."
The words of Simon Gardino, acting chairperson of the government-supporting youth attending this peace rally at Yambio Freedom Square, seem to ring true. More than 150 boys and girls seated in the shade of a tree, many of them belonging to the opposition faction of the main political party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, are nodding their agreement.
They come from eight different counties and have gathered for a one-day event, organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, the local Ministry of Information, Youth, Culture and Sports and the non-governmental organisation Non-Violent Peace Force.
It's the first time that younglings of different political persuasions are coming together in a bid to commit themselves to the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement signed in September 2018. The organisers want them to build social cohesion and promote reconciliation between communities by turning them into agents of positive, peaceful change.
With increased stability and calm in the Western Equatoria region, Costa Joseph, one of the youths representing the opposition, is keen on pinpointing what he believes to be the major challenges moving forward. from the opposition young men side agrees that youth have been used as tools to wage wars and cause distraction during conflict. He however underlined a different challenge youths now face.
"Now education is our main problem," he says, adding that the youth will need the assistance of local authorities to work hard and "prove themselves" worthy of society's trust. Apart from making it easier for boys and girls to study, Costa Joseph thinks that providing them with agricultural tools and sports equipment should be part of such support.
Christopher Murenga, head of the peacekeeping mission's field office in Yambio, stressed the importance of young men and women taking the lead in uniting communities in the ongoing quest for durable peace.
"Use the prevailing peace to promote harmonious coexistence in your daily interactions. Spread messages of peace, not war. Spread messages of love, not hate," the UN official said, adding that now is the time for the youth to utilise the skills they have acquired at different vocational training centres across the region.
Peacebuilding and sustaining peace is at the core of the Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative launched by the UN Secretary-General in 2018. Through systematic and targeted measures, UN Peacekeeping addresses the situation of those individuals and communities most affected by conflict, with the overarching goal of assisting national political processes, conflict resolution and stabilization.