MATTHEWS – Lydia Walker considers herself somewhat of a “thrill junkie.”
But beneath her love for traveling to places many people wouldn’t consider visiting lies a greater desire – to tell the stories of people facing extreme hardships in hopes of motivating others to take action.
Walker, the creative director for Matthews-based nonprofit Silent Images, recently returned from a trip to South Sudan where she worked with Ireland-based organization GOAL. She spent time recording video footage at three different refugee-like camps and interviewing individuals living in the camps.
“We basically, in a few days, got together this trip, and we were going to document (not just) all the conflict of troop movements and political sides, but document the citizens – ordinary citizens at grass roots being affected and suffering through all of this,” Walker said.
GOAL operates in 14 countries across several continents, serving as “an international humanitarian agency dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the poorest of the poor,” according to the organization’s website. Part of Walker’s mission was to focus on “internally displaced persons,” or IDPs – people who aren’t considered refugees because they still live in their own country, but have fled their homes to escape the conflict.
Walker has completed multiple overseas missions, including a trip to the Philippines in late 2013, and has seen poverty and devastation at its extreme. But the sense of hopelessness she saw when she arrived at the IDP camps in South Sudan was like nothing she’d ever witnessed.
“These people fled their homes and are homelessly wandering around,” Walker said, describing the country as a “massive ghost town” and the camps as a “massive game of human Jenga, people just stacked on top of other people … They don’t have jobs anymore, their family may or may not be with them, they don’t have entertainment – they basically just sit around and have nothing to do.”
Walker and the rest of her team had a successful mission despite the sense of aimlessness among those IDP camps. They had “great, candid” conversations with women in the camps, who talked about what it’s like to be a woman in the middle of the conflict.
About 86 percent of South Sudanese women are illiterate, Walker said. Women in the country are more likely to die in childbirth than receive an education, and many simply don’t understand the conflict around them, she added.
One South Sudanese woman’s story in particular stood out to Walker. The woman’s husband had been driven away to the bush, and she and her kids had no idea where he was. Soldiers busted into her house on Dec. 15, 2013 – the day the civil war began – and threatened to kill her and her kids if they didn’t leave immediately.
“That really grabbed at my heart because she was a woman who was undereducated and didn’t understand what’s going on, why the leaders were after her children,” Walker said.
Walker’s work in South Sudan already has been featured in several different European news reports and also is available at the Silent Images website. She hopes it will motivate people in countries across the world to discover how they can help and serve the South Sudanese people.
“I want people to care, because these people are in need,” Walker said. “People need to start paying attention, listening and having some harsh reality put into their faces so they can’t deny that something needs to be done.”
View some of Walker’s work in South Sudan at www.silentimages.org. Find more about GOAL at www.goal.ie.