Mama Nyandeng spent a majority of her formative years in Juba, where she attended Kator Primary School and Abudia Girls’ Junior High School. In 1973, she met a charming, intelligent and slightly unkempt young soldier who would spend the next 2 years battling to gain her affection. By December 1975, the battle was won, and the young soldier, John Garang de Mabior, returned to his village in Wangulei to conduct their traditional marriage. Nyandeng Chol Atem became Nyandeng de Mabior.
In April 1977 the couple had their first child, Mabior, and in November of the same year they moved to the United States, where John Garang obtained a Masters and Phd scholarship to study agricultural economics at Iowa State University (ISU). Rebecca Nyandeng, a young mother who had never left Sudan, would spend the next 4 years adapting to a new culture, gaining her General Educational Development (G.E.D) and learning about her husband’s vision of a New Sudan.
When the Second Civil war broke out in Bor on 16th May 1983, Mama Nyandeng was in Baidit with her 2 sons. Dr. John rushed to collect his family and drove them to Panyagor. The next morning they left for Poktap and continued driving towards Malakal. On 19th May 1983, she spent her first night in no-man’s-land, the struggle was underway and the harsh days of the bush had begun.
In 1986 Mama Rebecca Nyandeng would travel to Cuba to train as an officer along with 30 other Sudanese trainees from the movement. Her transformation from a housewife to a soldier was underway and through the years she would rise in rank, from a First Lieutenant, to a Captain and eventually to Lieutenant General.
As the first lady of the movement Mama Rebecca Nyandeng was forced to wear many hats. Along with her military responsibilities, she would cook for the soldiers, she was a nurse to the sickly, a wife to the Commander in Chief and a mother to her growing family. In 1999 she was tasked with creating an NGO that would offer vocational training to those impacted by the struggle which was named WODRANS (Widows, Orphans and Disabled, Rehabilitation Association for New Sudan). Beneficiaries of this organization would be trained to be blacksmiths, tailors, carpenters, electricians and plumbers.
In the same year, Dr. John encouraged Mama Rebecca to create a new town that would be the first to fulfill his vision of “taking towns to the people”. Located close to the Kenyan boarder in Kopoeta, Eastern Equatoria, this town was created out of nothing. Within 2 years, and with the help of many, she had established a church, a clinic, a market place, a farm, a grinding mill and, most notably, a primary/ boarding school named Nakwuothom Heritage Academy. Some of the students of this school have gone on to became university graduates, PhD candidates and 2 former students are currently employed in her office. This town was yet to be named but it was known by most as “New Site”. This first town was a dearly loved retreat for Dr. John and it would be the last place he would rest in South Sudan before his untimely demise.
On July 30th 2005, when Mama Nyandeng lost her husband and best friend, she stood tall in her own grief to comfort the nation and the continent at large. She pledged to continue to work towards her husband’s vision and to build a nation whose children would have a strong sense of belonging. She believes that the liberation of South Sudan belongs to all those who lost their lives in the struggle and that those who remain owe it to those who perished to build a better country, regardless of their politics, traditional background, gender or age.