At 65, Mama Elizabeth, a refugee from Sudan, embodies the spirit of compassion and community service in South Sudan’s Maban County. As one of the 48 dedicated ‘guardian angels,’ she has transformed her home into a sanctuary for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), offering them safety and solace. Her commitment to aiding those in distress was sparked by her innate desire to support women and individuals facing hardships.

Recently, Mama Elizabeth opened her home to Sarah*, a mother of nine escaping domestic violence in Sudan. Since the inception of this initiative in 2016 by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the Danish Refugee Council, over 145,000 refugees have found refuge and support through these community-based shelters. These havens provide a critical resource for women, children, and men in need, underscoring the importance of local leadership in humanitarian response.

Mama Elizabeth’s resolve to assist stems from her understanding of the challenges faced by women and girls, particularly the loss of educational opportunities due to early marriage. Her involvement in community leadership and her partnership with humanitarian organizations have made her a pivotal figure in advocating for women’s rights and raising awareness about SGBV.

UNHCR, alongside its partners, recognizes the invaluable role played by ‘guardian angels’ like Mama Elizabeth. These volunteers not only offer immediate protection and support to SGBV survivors but also contribute to the broader efforts to combat SGBV through awareness campaigns, safe shelters, and community sensitization. Their work is instrumental in addressing the needs of displaced populations, especially women and children, who are disproportionately affected by conflict and displacement.

Mama Elizabeth’s journey from a women’s representative to running a shelter highlights her ongoing commitment to supporting those in need. Her perspective on cultural practices such as early marriage has evolved, emphasizing the importance of education and empowerment for women. As she continues her vital work, Mama Elizabeth’s story serves as a testament to the power of community involvement and the impact of dedicated individuals in fostering change and providing hope to those affected by conflict and violence.