My earliest memories are of war, dead bodies and my uncle trying to save my life. At age 3, I became a refugee of the Sudanese civil war and one among 20,000 “Lost Boys of Sudan.” I was orphaned because my father was one of the 2.5 million people who were killed by war, and I was separated from my mother and sister when my village (Akobo, Sudan) was attacked and overrun by terrorists.
Now when I read and hear on the news about a ban on all refugees seeking to enter the United States, I am sad because I know how difficult life as a refugee is – poor living conditions, lack of food, and most important, the feeling of hopelessness.
My uncle died helping me flee to Ethiopia. I barely survived, living in three different refugee camps for the next 13 years. While in these camps, I was bitten by a cobra, suffered from malnutrition, malaria, and other tropical diseases. We received one meal daily, going to school was a dream, and sanitation was abysmal. Surviving these camps was like playing a game of chance; luck needed to be on your side. I dreamed of a better life; for most, there is no way out.
Since Sudan gained independence from Britain in 1956, more than 1.5 million people have died and 4 million have been displaced. This is because of two civil wars, the secession of South Sudan and the War in Darfur. For nearly 60 years, the people of the Sudan have endured political conflicts, coups and fighting between different ethnic groups, largely over the issue of religion. Adding to the problems are natural disasters, including droughts that have severely affected the land’s ability to provide food for its residents.
I was one of 4,000 Lost Boys who was fortunate enough to come to America, but getting here was not easy. I had to wait for five years and undergo seven interviews and three medical checks in order to gain approval to go to America. But, there was still another hurdle – I had to find an organization to sponsor me. I was fortunate that Commonwealth Catholic Charities stepped in and agreed to be my sponsor. With their help, I relocated to Richmond, Va., in 2005.
When I arrived, I did not speak English and had no formal education. I was blessed to have caring people to look after me. I worked hard and completed my secondary education and received a college degree in international relations in May of 2016 at University of Richmond. As a former refugee, I understand the feeling of hopelessness. Thinking that no one cares about your plight and living conditions and being labeled and destined to die in misery is scary and heart-breaking. Even the harshest of people wouldn’t think of that as a fitting life. That is why I am driven and have dedicated my life to helping Sudanese refugees and refugees all around the world.
I want to help them live independent lives and to be less dependent upon refugee aid agencies for their existence. By creating a nonprofit organization to help refugees learn to fish, farm and educate their children and by sharing my story, I have met many people who have given me hope that the world truly does care about their fellow human beings. I was lucky, but now I have to use my good fortune to create an opportunity for others who haven’t been as fortunate.
In the United States, we talk a lot about giving back to our communities, and I have wholly internalized that ideology. To me, giving back is not something generous that I like to do, but it is a calling and a welcomed burden that I take to heart and graciously except.
I invite interested individuals, nonprofit organizations and governments to join me in reaching out to provide hope and independence to refugees – not only from Sudan but throughout the war-torn regions of the world. Working together, we can restore their hope and give them confidence and an opportunity to live their lives with dignity.