From child soldier to activist.
That is the transformation that was undergone by Monybany Dau, a native of southern Sudan now living in Canada.
Dau fought with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the Second Sudanese Civil War.
Today, Dau works to rebuild South Sudan through Water for Atar, a project he founded that works to build clean drinking wells in Atar, Dau’s home village in South Sudan.
On April 13th, Dau was at Canadian University College in Lacombe to speak about the project and present The Ladder of my Life, a video documentary about Dau’s life and the struggles in Southern Sudan. The presentation was part of the 23rd anniversary celebrations of A Better World, which works with Dau on the Water for Atar project.
At the end of his presentation, Dau added that providing clean drinking water is just one small step in the right direction. He said that clean water would eliminate many of the major health problems that plague Atar.
It was 1984 when Dau first became involved in the conflict of the Second Sudanese Civil War. When Dau was only nine years old, his uncle was killed by an SPLA roadside bomb.
Dau said in the video that the SPLA was fighting for the rights of the people of southern Sudan. However, incidents like the one that killed his uncle showed that civilians like Dau, his family and others who lived in the village of Atar, were not safe, even from the army that was fighting for them.
“We lived in fear of both armies,” said Dau.
At nine years old, Dau did not know or understand why there was a war being fought in his homeland, but he certainly understood that there was a conflict. He also believed that, because of the war, he and his family were not safe.
Faced with this he saw few options. Dau decided to join the army that would best protect his interests, the SPLA, rather than flee into the jungle, and quite possibly die, for fear of both armies.
While Dau did not understand fully the implications of joining an army, he saw that SPLA soldiers were armed and could defend themselves. Dau felt that, as one of them, he would be able to protect himself and his family.
When the young Dau told his mother of his plans to join the SPLA, she of course objected. She told him he was too young, and would not be able to keep up with the other freedom fighters. His mother also told him that he should not join because she needed his help at home.
Despite his mother’s pleas, Dau remained fixed in his decision. He lied to his mother, telling her that he was going to a nearby pool to do a laundry trip the next day. He took a small amount of clothing with him and headed towards the pool, with no intention of returning.
However, unknown to Dau, his mother followed him and later found him. She again pleaded with him and tried to persuade him to return home but he would not go.
Dau said in the video that when most people think of a child soldier, they think of someone who was abducted and coerced, often with the use of drugs or some other leverage, to fight for an army. He stressed that this was not the case with him.
“I was not abducted. I voluntarily joined.”
Dau added that there was no manipulation or brainwashing by the SPLA. He said that the decision was his to make and he would make the same decision again if he had to.
While a member of the SPLA, Dau served as bodyguard to a high-ranking officer. He said he considered it an honour and that he believed the war to be just. Dau added that those who died fighting with SPLA did not die in vain, they bought their freedom with their lives.
Such a cause may be worthwhile and honourable, but certainly not preferable. Over two million people died in the Sudanese civil war and Dau said it was a vast violation of his human rights that he had to pick up a gun and fight to become a citizen in his own country.
Because of this, Dau now works toward a world where such an atrocity would never happen.
“I would like to build a world with no child soldiers.”
Now, Dau lives in Red Deer where he is studying business at Red Deer College. He said that he sees Canada, his new home, as a role model for the developing nation of South Sudan.