Life History Writing, working with the Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR)

Posted on 15 May 2013

In the academic year 2012-13 Karak Denyok came to the University of York under the Protective Fellowship Scheme at the Centre for Applied Human Rights. Karak is a human rights activist who visited York for training and recuperation.

In the academic year 2012-13 Karak Denyok came to the University of York under the Protective Fellowship Scheme at the Centre for Applied Human Rights. Karak is a human rights activist who visited York for training and recuperation. 

During her life Karak has experienced much of Sudan’s unrest and civil war, with many family members also affected.  Despite familial resistance and the vicissitudes of her situation, she managed to gain an education to university level.  This is a huge achievement in a country where a woman is more likely to die in childbirth than finish primary school.  The traditional South Sudanese society often allows women little power, and the civil unrest the country has suffered has affected women especially.  Karak’s work has centred around remedying this and helping women and children in particular.  While living in a displaced persons camp she founded a humanitarian organisation in order to educate and help other women to greater social, economic, and political empowerment.

While staying in York Karak recorded much of her life story in multiple sessions.  This was partly so it could later be disseminated to other South Sudanese women in order to encourage them to be inspired by her work and to raise their own voices. Much of my internship has involved the transcription, editing and amalgamation of Karak’s recorded sessions to form a coherent narrative which could be disseminated.  Editing her words has required sensitivity; rendering the narrative easily readable while also letting her voice speak for itself.  I have also had to bear in mind the intended audience and their level of English.

It has been quite a challenge to find various ways to reach our desired audience due to the low level of women’s literacy in South Sudan: currently only sixteen per cent of women over the age of fifteen can read.  A number of different methods of transmission have been researched, including textbooks for adult education printed through online publishing, which for smaller runs would be cheaper per book than traditional publishing.  We have also looked into the possibility of broadcasting her story over South Sudanese radio.  Although the radio audience tends to be predominantly male, a change in the position of women in such a traditional society requires a society-wide shift in perception.

I have found this project illuminating and enjoyable.   It has been inspiring to hear how Karak has lived through such difficult times and remained a strong-minded woman with her self-belief and compassion intact.   The internship has improved my understanding of the current situation of South Sudan and, if it all goes well, it will draw more attention to Karak’s work and have a positive influence on the lives of others.

Felicity Crowe

MA History
IPUP Intern