The Quest to Elevate Women Out of Poverty

After surviving the war in Sudan, Karak Denyok launched an organization to help marginalized and impoverished girls and females gain access to education and reintegrate into post-conflict societies through farming schools.

By Natalia Bonilla

Denyok fled her village in the Nuba Mountains when she was a kid. 

Rebel fighters looted and burned her home into ashes; she and her family were able to escape embarking on a 41- day journey to the nearest big city undertaking a new identity as displaced people. 

It is estimated that about four million people were displaced and nearly two million died during one of the longest civil conflicts in Africa and the second of this country since its independence from colonial rule.

The armed confrontations that took place over 22 years had different causes from religion and ethnicity to gendered tensions leading to more than just war; famine and diseases followed, complicating efforts for conflict resolution, humanitarian aid and talks for peace. 

“My vision started when I fled my home village in 1987. I was seeing to live a happy and peaceful life, living in a beautiful house, living with good people who love me, who value me, who would not harm me, kill me, or violate my rights. So, these dreams became my vision which I want to see for any woman, girl child, to live the same life full of hope, (aware) that she is a good citizen, she will bring light to her community,” Denyok said in an interview. 

Denyok grew up at the Mayo Refugee Camp and through time experienced human rights violations and gender-based violence. 

By the end of the 1990s, when relief aid from international organizations gained momentum she was already a young adult teaching children and started learning about development programs and one day, by 2003 she launched her own organization Diar for Rehabilitation and Development Association. 

The indigenous non-profit, social and humanitarian organization dedicated to advocate for women’s and children’s rights in displaced camps and war-torn zones through programs like education, vocational training and sustainable agriculture practices.

“Women faced a lot of violence, hardship during this war and that’s why we choose to work with them, empower them, give them training on farming, school, health, advocacy for peace and development,” Denyok said.

Access and affordability of food was the biggest need they faced according to a first survey Karak and her team made, therefore the focus was developing a program where women could learn to grow crops to feed themselves and their families. 

Farm schools are considered a first step to achieve a sustainable food and economic empowerment cycle as “women participate in farm training and adult education classes; they are given a plot of land, tools, and seeds to cultivate life sustaining food for themselves and their families; by selling any surplus at local markets, they generate income for their families” and “our participants also share resources with each other and form networks that provide meaningful and lasting supportive relationships,” the foundation website reads.

However, as the DRDA began scaling up its social impact, change came to Denyok’s life and the East Africa region too. 

The founder began traveling abroad – and eventually moving to the US-  while South Sudan declared its independence on July 9, 2011. 

The DRDA continued offering programs despite the new civil conflict that spurred in 2013 in South Sudan, one of the most alarming in the continent with estimates of over 5 million people experiencing severe food insecurity and approximately 8.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance since the pandemic COVID-19 hit in 2020. 

In the US, Denyok founded the Diar Foundation in order to continue her work in South Sudan and Uganda providing sanitation, food, educational resources and opportunities to thousands of women and girls, most of them walking long distances by foot to get to the programs. 

As the global health emergency changed life, business and national priorities in almost two years, the organization’s work only got reinforced as the communities they were serving could prepare better and collaborate with each other to ensure livelihoods and prosperity in areas where government presence or international assistance was closer to none. 

Denyok looked at her foundation’s focus on women as a hidden blessing for men in power don’t care much about what happens to them but she does. 

Diar means “women” in Dinka language. 

The leader of this nonprofit organization holds a strong conviction that women do hold the power to change the world starting from their acknowledging their own and then joining forces as communities. 

“I want to see my women valued. I want them to be given the same rights that men have and the only way we can achieve this is to come together as women and to fight together as women, when we come together we are stronger than one person. Our problem is one. One woman cannot fight alone, we need us to come together as women wherever we are, regardless of your religion, nationality, your gender, as long as you are a women. Let’s unite and speak up on behalf of women who do not have resources, opportunities to speak for themselves,” Denyok said. 

Her long-term vision is unfinished which keeps her inner fire burning and her groundbreaking commitment to unite and work with other East African women alive. 

You can learn more about Diar Foundation’s work here.

You can listen to the full interview with Karak Denyok here.

Photo Credits: Diar Foundation 

If you would love to see more of this content, consider joining the Lumina Support Fund here.

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