With a physical disability and after being displaced three times, Philip Hakim Bongomin, from Magwi, South Sudan campaigns for the rights of older people and people with disabilities.

Untold stories: Philip Hakim Bongomin, South Sudan


I live in Magwi County, Imatong State. I have lived here since birth but have also been displaced on three occasions, fleeing to neighboring Uganda due to conflicts in my country.

This village is very beautiful, the vegetation and fertile land have always made our livelihoods. Due to ongoing conflict, however, many of the population are in camps in Uganda. I am happy to have returned home because life was difficult there.  
Due to a physical disability that I acquired in a motorcycle accident, I cannot do much for myself and rely on my grandchildren for help. I was once a teacher and worked as Director of Education. I have also worked in the humanitarian sector with ADRA, ACF and WFP. But nobody now recognises these contributions I made to society years ago.  

How did you get involved in campaigning for older people’s rights?  

Because of the lack of recognition of my contribution and the general lack of recognition of older people, I started speaking out in various forums in my village, challenging the thinking by younger people that older people are useless. As a teacher, I feel the so called “learned younger people” is because of the knowledge some of us imparted to them.  

Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your age?  

We are not given any respect, support and space in decision-making processes. In a recent seed distribution by aid agencies, I was not registered as they said I have no energy to farm. On several occasions, older people have been denied humanitarian support on the pretext of prioritisation of children, youth and women making us feel that we do not count anymore.  
I was stopped from running for political office in the 2010 state general elections and was told to stay away and give space to young people. I felt this violated my rights but when I tried to stand as an independent candidate, I was subjected to intimidation and harassment.  
After acquiring the disability on my leg things became even worse. Words like “get out with your disability, what can you do?” are everyday humiliations I must live with. On the occasion of the marriage of my own daughter, I was kept away from the in-laws as family members thought my appearance was going to be an embarrassment confirming the myth that disability is a curse from the gods! All these have not killed my spirit though.  

Tell me about your proudest moments as a campaigner  

I advocated for the inclusion of older people in psychosocial support programmes by aid agencies to empower older people, something that has made me proud after seeing the vital services reached my fellow older people. I also engineered the formation of older people and people with disabilities groups to provide peer to peer support in my county (Magwi). This is helping but we still need support and respect of our rights to equal access to services and assistance.  

What are you campaigning for right now, and how are you doing it? 

Currently, I am chairing the campaign group of my village involved in awareness creation of the rights of older people to change the community’s attitude towards older people. I always participate in our local FM radio station, and in workshops organised by our older people’s organisation (SSOPO).  

How are things improving for older people in your country?  

Our campaign work has created some positive changes, for example the provision of psychosocial first aid to older people have reduced stress and some materials such as blankets and soaps were provided to older people by humanitarian agencies. The campaign has empowered and given hope to older people that their issues are being talked about. I think the situation of older people like myself can be improved if our caregivers are given information about our needs and rights and given necessary support (agriculture inputs and livelihood support) so that they can take good care of us.  

Do you have a message for other older people around the world? 

Let us continue to demand fair treatment from our families and society. It is not so easy but let us not give up.  

What would your perfect world look like? 

My dream is to see a world where I can finish the rest of my days on earth in peace and happiness. It is still a distant dream, but I hope some of us or our grandchildren will one day reach there.  
With thanks to HelpAge office in South Sudan.
Read more stories from older campaigners.