The 41-year-old is the brain behind the Festival of Fashion and Arts for Peace in South Sudan, an annual festival that promotes and celebrates South Sudanese culture.
De Garang, a fashion designer and development expert, fled Juba with her family as a young child, eventually settling in the UK.
As a student De Garang learned about how her home country was losing its cultural heritage because of ongoing conflict in the country, and her urge to save it brought her back to Juba.
Civil war has raged in South Sudan since 2013, when President Salva Kiir accused his ousted Vice President Riek Machar of organizing a coup. Clashes broke out between the government and soldiers loyal to the former vice president.
Thousands have been killed in the ensuing violence and the UN estimates more than 2 million have been displaced. Despite a series of failed talks and ceasefires the fighting continues.
“I think I can add more to society in South Sudan,” De Garang told CNN. “Here I’m not just spending all my money on an expensive lifestyle as I would in the UK. I love Africa’s openness.”
On the 9th July 2012, the first anniversary of South Sudan’s independence, De Garang held the first edition of the festival.
“It was challenging and exciting,” she said. “The whole team of volunteers was passionate as this was a unique, unprecedented event.”
“It’s not cheap to hire in Juba. We had to build our own runway from scratch, we bought our own tent. The economic situation has become really difficult. Inflation is high.”
The first edition was a success with 300 people from different communities in attendance.
These days the festival is still a community affair, with different people pitching in to help. The event includes an arts and crafts market, a range of performances and poetry readings, traditional dances and a fashion show that features local and regional designers and world renowned models like Manuela Modong and Atong DeMach.
A curfew followed by a restriction on movement meant the festival didn’t take place last year but De Garang hopes the 2017 edition will be better than ever, but things don’t come easy in a conflict zone.
A few of the artisan groups involved in the festival were displaced and can’t be traced, inflation now stands at 450 per cent , and the threat of violence looms.
“In July  people were evacuated, everybody was on the edge, no one knew what would happen,” she said. “So it wasn’t a good idea to bring a group of people in one place. It was a huge responsibility to fly people into Juba with things being so tense. People were leaving Juba and going to the villages. “
“It is tough. People have to make choices. A lot of people are sending their children to refugee camps in Uganda because they just don’t have enough to support them.”
Beyond preserving culture, De Garang is committed to using the festival as a tool to help her countrymen and women connect.
“The South Sudanese don’t know each other very well,” she continued.
“We’ve been separated by war for many years and so even telephone, Internet, and the opportunity to travel from one side of the country to the other have been very rare. We operate with what we hear about the other  tribes and usually that’s negative stereotypes.”
24 January 2017 | 1:16 am
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