South Sudan: Learning how to communicate and manage complaints during an ongoing conflict

Published: 17 November 2014 12:49 CET

Winnie Kamau & Cynthia Sawe, IFRC

More than one million people are estimated to have been displaced in South Sudan after internal armed conflict broke out in December 2013. Every state in the country has been affected, requiring the deployment of hundreds of volunteers from the South Sudan Red Cross to provide humanitarian assistance to affected populations, ranging from distribution of relief items to hygiene promotion.

Frontline volunteers are the first to come into direct contact with communities during such crises and are often faced with difficult questions and complaints from people who are scared, frustrated and facing an uncertain future. To address this, the South Sudan Red Cross, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), piloted a Communication Skills and Complaints Management training to support volunteers in their work with communities.

The training was aimed at frontline volunteers who are directly involved in South Sudan Red Cross activities in internally displaced persons camps and other affected areas. Sixty frontline volunteers in Juba, and 30 in Awerial were trained on good communication skills, how to respond to questions and complaints, and how to recognize, prevent and resolve conflict and tension in communities. Volunteers were also briefed on the Red Cross staff and volunteer Codes of Conduct, and, in particular, the behaviour expected of them when working with communities.

“It is a very good training session that will help the community understand us better,” said  Nyok John, Awerial unit volunteer.

“I commend the trainers and I would like further training because it is vital to our work,” added another branch volunteer.  

Recognizing the positive impact of this training on local Red Cross community relations and the need to roll it out to branches countrywide, a Training of Trainers was developed and delivered to seven branch communication officers. This equipped each branch with the skills and materials to run the same training with their own volunteers.

“The training was great and our communication officers can now practically implement the Movement’s fundamental principles in their daily work,” said Majju Hillary, communications coordinator, South Sudan Red Cross.

“Beneficiary communications has improved my communication skills and capacity to manage complaints,” added Salva Akot, communications officer in Kwajok branch.

According to post evaluation forms, all participants feel they have learned new skills and gained knowledge, and therefore feel confident to expand and deliver the training to other volunteers. In light of this, the South Sudan Red Cross has already started to make plans for a further training in Awerial, and to roll out the training to branches in 2015.

Movement partners are working together to support the South Sudan Red Cross, the world’s newest national Red Cross society, in its efforts to promote preparedness and community-based initiatives. These are key elements to ensuring a sustainable and effective approach to meeting the needs of people in South Sudan now and in the future.

Red Cross Red Crescent strictly operates in a neutral, independent and impartial manner to respond to humanitarian needs and to provide support to anyone affected, in compliance with international humanitarian law. The International Committee of the Red Cross is leading Red Cross Red Crescent operations in South Sudan with the support of the Movement.