With its modern buildings and expansive greenery, at first glance, Givat Haviva appears to be an ordinary boarding school in Israel. But the school’s grounds serve as a neutral location for divided communities, bringing people together through common goals and civic education. Cultivating leadership skills in its diverse student population, Christina Philips plans to take these lessons from Givat Haviva, and use them to advocate for a shared human equality in the Middle East and beyond.
Moving to Israel with her family in 2007, Philips lived there for five years before her family’s deportation to South Sudan. At the time, South Sudan had gained its independence from Sudan. The Israeli government assumed it was now safe for Philips and her family to return to their homeland. Philips felt strange being there. To her, it was almost as if she had been part of two worlds.
The only thing in common between her and the people in South Sudan, Philips observed, was that they were all South Sudanese. Despite this shared trait, Philips struggled to find anything in common between herself and the people in her country.
When thinking of Israel, Philips recalled how it gave her a vision of a “developed place.” She remembered how there had been electricity and running water, and the people there are “free to do whatever [they] want.” In Israel, Philips said, “You don’t really see people suffering, and almost everyone is in a good position.”
Looking at South Sudan in comparison, Philips found it to be the opposite.
“There was…my life was really difficult there…you live in a house without electricity, and you always feel sick because of malaria…and you see many people suffering, and the poverty rate is so high. And you see that many girls your age are not in school, but rather, they’re getting married.”
Philips recalled turning to her father one day and asking why they were in South Sudan, as she wanted to go back to Israel where she felt safe.
“Even if it’s really bad,” he told her, “even if the situations are not favorable, you just have to accept the fact that we are just in your country. And it will take us time to develop, and we just have to work together to better our country.”
Then, one year after her family’s deportation to South Sudan, a civil war broke out in 2013.
“For the first time, I saw dead bodies,” she recalled. “People walked through dead bodies. The whole street was full of dead bodies.”
Philips remembered hating Israel, blaming them for what she had to endure. Today, while she doesn’t agree with what they did, Philips realized her deportation experience had awarded her a unique opportunity.
Seeing where she came from made her strong, Philips said, filling her with “the desire to fight for [her] country, and fight for what [she] believe[s] in.”
Before her return to South Sudan, Philips said she had not known people’s lives were in danger, and it took being removed from Israel’s “comfortable bubble” to realize it. Suddenly, she was driven to study ways she could improve not just her life, but the lives of others. It was after she fled to Uganda with her family that Philips learned about Givat Haviva’s unique conflict resolution program.
Though Philips’s parents were supportive, her extended family feared Philips attending such a school would give her power to overthrow men. But her father merely replied,”If she thinks that’s the better way to achieve her dreams, who am I to stop her?”
Challenging her extended family’s perceptions of women, Philips argued with them as an equal when she returned home for the summer. For the first time, they seemed to actually hear her. One of Philips’s dreams is to see more female representatives in the South Sudanese government, and for women to be seen as valuable contributors to the community.
Philips’s candid conversation with her uncles made a difference, as Philip’s compelling arguing skills convinced them to send her cousins to school so they could learn to be like her.
But there were other ways Philips realized she could inspire change. Her time among her peers showed her they had misconceptions about Africa. Finding her voice, Philips pushed herself to learn her classmates’ language so she could share the “two sides to the story” that is Africa.
Advocating for equality, Philips understands a fundamental component of this is to see people as more than their identity group.
“So just follow your heart and don’t judge people. Because at the end of the day, we’re all human beings…just see me as the other person, just like you are. And face each other, face conflicts, don’t run away from conflicts.”
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.