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Crayolas for peace in Southern Sudan

Fri, Apr 20, 2012

Most American children draw artwork of trucks and family vacations but South Sudanese refugees residing in Illinois used their Crayolas to draw militia attacking communities and fires consum- ing villages. On February 23 the Sudanese Cultural Association of Illinois (SCAI) showcased the artwork at The Refugee Journey of the Lost Boys from Sudan to Chicago, an event sponsored by Loyola University’s Refugee Outreach group.

Since 1983 the Sudan People’s Liberation Army of the South struggled to defend their land, culture, and resources from Khartoum militia in the north, according to SCAI representative Gene Tenner. In the midst of violence, 20,000 young boys of the Neur and Dinka tribes were separated from their families. In 2001, the Unit- ed States resettled approximately 4,000 of these commonly known “Lost Boys.”

Today these boys are men and have had a home to return since South Sudan gained independence in July 2011. Unfortunately, the new nation is not immune to further hostility as conflicts over oil, persecution of Sudan’s remaining black population, and displacement persist. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that within two months of independence “inter-communal” violence killed 3,000 Southern Sudanese and displaced upwards of 300,000.
Lost Boys, such as Chicago residents Kuek Garang, Peter Bul, and Kuir Jibol, are determined to prevent a violent repetition of history by sharing their stories and empowering youth through education. “We have a chance now to change history and be leaders to make the next generation a better place,” Kuek said while speaking with his childhood friend Peter at Loyola.
Kuek and Peter attended primary school together while displaced in Kenya at Kakuma Refugee Camp. Peter recalled, “We wrote our ABCs in the soil together and we would tear exercise books provided by UNICEF to share during class.”

In 1984, the Khartoum militia burned Kuek and Peter’s village. During the chaos, the 6-year-old boys were separated
from their parents and ran east to Ethio- pia. Roads and infrastructure were non- existent near the Ethiopian camp and the U.N. took three months to deliver food and medicine. Kuek said, “When the camp was first established it was established from nowhere…so everything had to be built from nothing and the spread of disease (cholera) was very common…I thought the next one that dies, that’s going to be me.” Kuir arrived to this camp five years after Kuek and Peter.

In 1991, the new Ethiopian govern- ment expelled all Sudanese forcing them to swim across Gila River, the unofficial border of Sudan and Ethiopia. According to Kuir, the strong current and crocodiles killed 2,000 and the Lost Boys who survived walked for two years toward Kenya. They relied on infrequent food drops from Red Cross helicopters. Kuir and the Lost Boys buried 10,000 of their fellow friends along the way in a trek equidistant from Chicago to Den- ver, eventually reaching Kakuma Refu- gee Camp.

For four years, the boys lived in the overcrowded Kakuma Camp where food and medicine were scarce. This camp continues to receive 230 refugees weekly from the South Kordofan region in Sudan and the Jonglei state in South Sudan, according to the United Nations.

Kuek, Peter, and Kuir found relief in 2001 when the United States government randomly selected them for resettlement. A few hundred Lost Boys abandoned their hope of reuniting with their families in a leap of faith for education and stability.
Kuir originally resettled in Upstate New York where he first worked at McDonald’s “flipping fries.” He then enrolled in community college while working two jobs to support the education of his sisters resettled in Kenya. Kuir said, “A lot of Southern Sudanese have seen hardship so when you get an opportunity you don’t want to give it up, you want to get out what you can. That’s an attitude we need to have as a country.” Kuir attained a degree in social work from Olivet Nazarene University and at age 27 is now pursuing a master’s in com- munity development from North Park University.

Arriving in the United States at 20 years old, Kuek and Peter roomed and studied together at Truman College and overcame hardships like computer illiteracy. Today they both attend Northeastern Illinois University. Peter is pursuing a bachelor’s in political science and economics and is the assistant secretary of SCAI. Kuek is studying international relations in graduate school.

Lost Boys displayed their cultural pride during the referendum for South Sudanese secession in January 2011 by congregating at the international polling stations to vote for their nation’s independence.
Seven months later, Kuek returned home to celebrate South Sudan’s historic Independence Day. On this trip he married Adeng Malok, and is proud his marriage certificate is under South Sudanese jurisdiction.

He met his wife in 2009 during his first reunification with his family, document- ed in the film, 22 Years from Home. In this film Kuek states, “Living itself it means giving branches in spite of what challenges we’re facing…if there is something I have to share, then I’m proud.”

Kuek hopes to become an ambassador to create his vision of peace in the new nation still plagued with violence and displacement. The U.N. predicts food insecurity in the region will affect 4.7 million, approximately half of the South Sudanese population in coming months. Roughly 140,000 people in Kuek’s home state, Jonglei, have recently experienced “inter-ethnic fighting” and village burnings.

“A world with no borders would be in a better place and students can create that bridge,” explained Kuek. “Ambassadors are not enough to bind us together.” This idea inspired Kuek to open two schools in his home state that could educate approximately 1,000 young minds. He hopes to foster cross-cultural dialogue among younger generations by one day linking classrooms in South Sudan and the United States to build the foundation for a more peaceful future.

Jackline Atingo, a social worker for War Child Holland in neighboring Uganda, agrees that education is the best step forward. She said, “Literacy levels will increase and children will be in a position to read and write. Education will expose them to know what is taking place in other parts of the world.”

Kuir agrees and said, “Until people under- stand their right within the law there will always be political crisis and conflict between the government and communities.”
Kuir is also partnering with the Center for Global Peace for Commerce through Dominican University to initiate a grassroots development project in South Sudan. He said, “Their model brings in different communities that usually have conflict between them… if an economic interest can be created between different communities who are usually in conflict that could bring a lasting peace within any community.”

Sudan and South Sudan are 98 percent dependent on oil revenues, so peaceful com- merce initiatives are essential. “The oil pipeline still goes through the north, that is a big disadvantage politically and financially,” said Kuir. Salva Kiir’s government in South Sudan recently shut down oil pipelines refusing to pay Sudanese tariffs 30 times that of international standards.

Journalist Ann Curry recently accused the Khartoum government, led by Omar al-Bashir, of “ethnic cleansing” of the Nuba Two Sudanese boys. Photo courtesy of Abek Community Development Program Facebook Page
people in the South Kordofan province of Sudan. Khartoum militias have bombarded these communities with shrapnel bombs and used terror to prevent farming and instill starvation. Kuek explained that the government’s ruthless persecution of the group stirs from the Nuba and Blue Nile involve- ment with southern rebel groups and their desire for independence. Khartoum militia kidnapped and tortured Nuba woman Eliz- abeth Kafi, age 22, who told New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof, “They said that they want to finish off the black people.”

Peter recognizes the impact story telling can have on generating peace in Sudan. “There’s nowhere in the world our history was shown and people were dying until we came,” Peter said, “We survived and made it to the country like the U.S., we have to be brave and spread this history because there are children sill going through the same thing.

Gene Tenner concluded his presentation by sharing art work of children tormented by images of war. One piece of art work had a glimmer of hope stating: “Pray so that peace rains in Darfur.” While Darfur is not located in the south where Kuek, Kuir and Petrer originate, the message is the same: a new generation will only live peacefully if mistakes of history are not repeated.

Written by Angela Wells,
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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