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August 24, 2021

Remembering Sheldon Wardwell

Honoring the life of former HU colleague and friend, Sheldon Wardwell.

Sheldon Wardwell was on staff with Humanity United from May to November 2013, making his mark as a beloved colleague and friend. It was at HU where he learned about the work of Nonviolent Peaceforce, later leaving to work directly with them as a Protection Officer in South Sudan. The following year, Sheldon wrote a blog for HU detailing his perspective on the situation in South Sudan at the time.

The below memorial was originally posted by Nonviolent Peaceforce, and does a wonderful job of remembering a dear friend – gone too soon, but never forgotten.

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Sheldon Wardwell. He was a beloved son, family member, humanitarian and dedicated former Protection Officer with Nonviolent Peaceforce until 2014.

Sheldon steps into a canoe with community members in South Sudan. March 2014. Photo Credit: Nonviolent Peaceforce.

In 2013, Sheldon began working with NP in South Sudan just as the country was spiraling into a brutal civil war. As the conflict escalated into genocide, Sheldon and his colleagues rushed to towns and villages such as Bentiu to protect civilians impacted by the conflict.

Tiffany Easthom, NP’s Executive Director, shared the following thoughts from her time working with Sheldon:

“Sheldon began his work with Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan quite literally at the outbreak of the civil war in December 2013. He had just arrived in country when a long brewing political conflict escalated, the army split and intensive fighting broke out across the city he was located in, holding everyone hostage for days to the unfurling violence that would soon take over the whole country. In this chaos and confusion, it was immediately clear to all of us that Sheldon was a special person. He put himself forward for anything that needed to be done, he joined the first mission that went into the city when the fighting subsided in search of survivors. Sheldon had an overwhelming urge to help and protect anyone in need and with this, his instinct was to move towards rather than run away when people were in need, even if it meant being close to danger. He worked in a number of displacement camps that were rapidly established to provide protective shelter for the hundreds of thousand of people who had been forced to flee the fighting.

He felt everything deeply. He brought an intense commitment, empathy and lived sense of shared humanity to his work. He easily built trusting relationships with everyone from militia commanders to ambassadors to people experiencing the most difficult moment of their lives. Sheldon was a dynamic, caring and passionate humanitarian and the impact of his work continues on.”

Sheldon sits around a meal table with community members in South Sudan. January 2014. Photo Credit: Nonviolent Peaceforce.

During his time with NP in South Sudan, Sheldon was a committed and thoughtful team member, regularly reflecting on his experience amid the larger political context. In 2015, Sheldon’s story was featured in Nick Turse’s book Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan, published by Haymarket Books.

“Sheldon Wardwell, an American aid worker, was dropped into this tornado of devastation on January 12 when the country director of the tiny NGO he worked for, Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), dispatched him to Bentiu as part of a four-person team, some of the first humanitarians to return to the ravaged region.

In April, rumors began circulating that the rebels were preparing to mount a new assault on Bentiu. Wardwell recieved some disturbing news that… ‘about 60 women and children were at the airstrip two miles south of our location… the women and children that are stuck at this airstrip are not able to go right and they’re not able to go left—and there’s a looming attack at any moment. And these people are going to be trapped right in the middle of it.’ The only question was when.

It was between four and five o’clock, with rain beginning to fall, when Wardwell hopped behind the wheel of NP’s white Land Cruiser with [another protection officer] in the passenger seat. First, they visited the UN liaison officer to discuss their plan. If the United Nations wasn’t going to save these people, Wardwell told him, then NP would. The official wasn’t pleased, but there was no way for him to stop them.

The plan, if you could call it that, was to stop at the checkpoints, let the soldiers know that they were from Nonviolent Peaceforce, and that they were heading back to pick up some women and children, and that they’d be back shortly.

It doesn’t take very long for Wardwell and Peace to reach the airstrip, which is when they first spot the trapped civilians. A tiny girl wearing a pech dress with floral print sleeves, suitable for Easter Sunday. A boy in a brown t-shirt, jeans cut to shorts just below the knees. Young women in cotton print dresses, small children perched on their hips, others toting overstuffed rectangular bags… sixty women and children and four men, all of them now racing toward the Land Cruiser, swarming around it, grasping, desperate, frantic.

‘[The other protection officer] and I jam-pack this Land Cruiser with 20 children and 7 women. They’re literally crammed in like sardines,’ Wardwell recalls…

He starts the engine, rolls on, and they do make it back and watch the women and children clamber out of the Land Cruiser to the safety of the [Protection of Civilians] site. Finally Wardwell breathes his first sigh of relief. They’ve succeeded in saving 27 lives.”

His obituatry states that “Sheldon never stopped trying to help and elevate the communities he had bonded with so deeply. Sheldon’s last passion project was construction of the Sanaag Speciality Hospital in Somaliland, a facility Sheldon knew would alleviate the numbing infant death rates he’d confronted there.”

Sheldon’s full obituary can be read here.

Those who want to pay their respects may find information about memorial services at the bottom of the obituary, or help continue the work Sheldon was so dedicated to by donating to the Sanaag Specialty Hospital.

The Memorial for Gods Warrior Sheldon Wardwell will be held at the doTerra campus, Auditorium 10:00am Aug. 19, 2021. 389 South 1300 W, Pleasant Grove, Utah.

The memorial service will include an open mic, and those that Sheldon touched are encouraged to bring their stories, songs, thoughts and prayers. It will be a tribute to someone who was the real deal – a gentle but incredibly brave man.
Memorial Services will be live streamed to 20 countries. You can join us at this link.

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