Local2Youth: From Akuaideng to Sault Ste. Marie
Steffanie Date for local2 sault ste. marie
June 2nd, 2011 at 1:12pm
Almost as far back as the 19th century, the people of Southern Sudan have experienced atrocities first at the hands of Eurasian invaders from Turkey who came looking for slaves, gold, ivory and timber. By the end of the 1800’s Britain and Egypt would take on the role of oppressor, together colluding the occupation of Sudan. Separate administrative governances for the north and south would be established. Southern Sudan was further marginalized while all efforts to develop socio-economic stability were poured into Northern Sudan.
In 1956, Sudan received independence and the disparate regions entered into a period of violence that was perpetuated for almost a half century. Between 1955 and 2004, the country endured civil war for 49 years. The first civil war waged from1955- 1972 and the second from 1982- 2005. The impact upon the people of Southern Sudan has been devastating. Yet, daughters taken into slavery, sons forced into soldiering, entire families massacred by war, and the threat of cultural genocide has not quenched the indomitable spirit of a people who remain, in spite of this, determined. In January of 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Government of Sudan. The agreement was to mark the end of the second civil war and the unifying of a country.
In 1999, Peter saw his village, Akuaideng, for the last time. “There was a lot of chaos there. My parents took me to my aunt’s place and I had to live far away from them. I was 15 years old.” Two years later, while tending the cattle, soldiers charged into the village and began firing. “We were under attack. When the gun shot, the cattle began moving and mixing with the people. When the animals started running we all ran with the cattle. People were mixed up with the cattle and the guns were shooting. I just ran where my heart told me to run. I lost my family. I found myself with different people that were not my own.”
Peter kept running for many days. Terrified to stop moving, Peter slept little and ate less, barely sustaining himself on leaves and scant amounts of fruit. Peter and his group kept moving hoping to find a secure place. They eventually came upon a soldier camp but were urged to keep their pace. After several more days of walking, the group came across a second soldier camp. They were able to rest there for awhile but were encouraged to continue pursuing a direction that would lead them to the Kenyan border.
After travelling over a hundred miles, Peter stumbled into a Red Cross base camp. They gave him food and clothing and assisted his crossing into Kenya. It was 2001. Peter would live in a refugee camp for the next 10 years attending school and eventually teaching the hundreds of children that came after him. Between 2001- 2003, the war had a severe impact upon Akuaideng. “It was terrible for my people in those days. I do not know all that happened. All I know is that I am living. And I did the best I could.”
In August 2010, Peter got on an airplane and flew to Sault Ste. Marie. Sponsored on a scholarship through World University Service of Canada, Peter is now a full-time student pursuing a 4-year economic and finance degree at Algoma University. Asked about his university experience to date, Peter is almost overwhelmed by the informality of the environment. “In my country everyone has a rank- your title always comes before your name and people who have a higher title do not mix with people with a lower rank. Here, everybody is equal! My professors say ‘hi’ to me and I don’t know what to say sometimes.” His face breaks into a wide smile as he continues, “Students and teachers sit together! You treat everyone the same here. I realize this is good.”
Aside from the obvious challenges of learning a new language, Peter is adjusting to a radically different culture. Prior to coming to Sault Ste. Marie, Peter was immersed in a class that would help prepare him for our Canadian behaviour and lifestyle. “In my country, nobody nods their head. If I saw you nodding your head, I would not know what you are doing. In my country, we do not nod, we click our tongues. It is like appreciating what the other person is saying. My people like to be together at night. Daytime is busy with work but night is our time to talk and pass on our traditions. We have no electricity so when we are telling stories and it is dark and we cannot see each other, we click so the other person knows we are understanding and listening.”
Peter has been in Sault Ste. Marie for 10 months now and admits that at times loneliness bears a heavy burden upon his heart. Far from his loved ones and things familiar, Peter is eager to develop friendships in his new home. “I do not leave the campus much. I do not like staying here all the time but I do not really know where to go. Back at home people are around all the time. Everyone lives together. We do not have the privacy that you do here. I find this difficult.” Silent for a moment he adds, “The more people I meet the more I will get to understand the language too. I need to get used to the life here or it will be hard for me. I need to learn as much as I can.”
Everyday activities such as cooking are yet another learning curve for Peter. “Cooking is hard! In my village men don’t cook. Men hunt and watch the cattle. When I go the grocery store, I do not even know what I need to buy to cook! I try to look at everybody else’s cart to get an idea.” Grinning he says, “I just eat a lot of pizza.”
For the summer, Peter will be working in the English Second Language program at Algoma University. It is his first job since coming to Canada. “This is my job until the fall. Then I will be looking for new part-time work. Finding a job here is hard. I’ll do the simplest job. I just want to get the experience. And it would help me get used to the community and get involved.”
A person can’t help but be humbled when with Peter. He is a gentle young man who possesses a silent strength and every action and word is measured with conviction. “My hope is that people will see this and we can talk. If we do not have discussions like we are now, then what do we learn from each other?” Peter leans forward with his elbows on his knees and his open hands gesticulate between us. “I am taking the best from my old culture and the best from my new culture to make a great culture. It is like I am born again.”
*The Sault Youth Association is grateful for the rich contributions Peter makes to our initiatives. If you would like to share community opportunities with Peter please contact Steffanie at firstname.lastname@example.org .