Former Refugee Builds New Life and Defies Stereotypes in South Sudan

Former Refugee Builds New Life and Defies Stereotypes in South Sudan 

Rose Opani, Driver for IOM in South Sudan 

 

When I first started driving water trucks around Juba, the communities would ask, “Why is this woman driving a truck?” 

I was born in 1984 in a village 30 miles from Yei town. When I was eight, my father took one of my sisters and I by bicycle to a school on the border with Uganda. We stayed there for a year before we had to move to the refugee camp in Uganda. We lived with our aunts, uncles and cousins in a refugee camp while our parents stayed back in South Sudan. 

I spent three years in the camp, until my father died. His appendix burst and there were no doctors. So, I had to come back to the village to be with my mother, who was a midwife. A year later, we lost her too. So, I went back to the camp. 

It took six days to walk there from Yei. When I got back to the camp, I stopped going to school, because there was not enough support. If we needed a little bit of money for something small like soap, then we would have to go collect firewood from the forest and make charcoal to sell. It could be dangerous. 

Three years later, my uncle took me to Koboko but then he died in a road accident and life became very difficult. I had to start looking for money to support my three sisters. I began to make a little money washing and collecting water for people in the camp.  

When I turned 18-years-old, I realized that I could not finish school and decided to leave. 

I wanted to go back to learning. I travelled to Kampala and enrolled in an English course and driving school. I did not have enough money to finish, so I went to Juba and worked in a market before I could finish school. 

Eventually I secured my first driving job delivering water in Juba. There were many women in driving school in Kampala but there were very few women driving trucks in South Sudan. 

In 2012, after working for another international organization in Juba, I joined IOM and now have been a driver with them for six years. 

Driving in Juba can be tough – the roads are dangerous and motorcyclists can be careless. In the field, it can be a lot worse. The cars get stuck because of the conditions, especially in the rainy season, and we must get them out without damaging them. But I am happy with the job I am doing as a driver especially because it means that my daughters can go to school.