LETTER TO THE EDITOR: ‘I don’t want to be a prisoner of my past’

By on February 9, 2011

(Editor’s Note: The following words are from Jurkuch Jameswal Atem, a Quinnipiac senior, and one of the Sudanese refugees known as the “lost boys of Sudan.”)

Sudanese people across the world cast their votes in the recent referendum to decide whether Sudan will remain one unified country, or separate and recognize Southern Sudan as its own country. I pause to remember July 30, 2005, when Dr. John Garang vanished into the dark sky as his helicopter crashed into ashes. It was a gloomy day in my life, in Sudan and in Africa as a whole. Garang was a powerful advocate for peace and justice, and a principal contributor to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. It is important to call on his memory as we move forward, continuing the work he started on our behalf.

But I don’t want to be a prisoner of the past, bound by the memory of Sudan’s civil wars. Instead I embrace education as my power to learn from the past and the present. This will help me contribute to solutions for Sudan. As I cast my vote in the Sudanese referendum, I am a full citizen of the world. I am an American citizen and a son of Mother Africa.

We, the so-called “Lost Boys of Sudan,” couldn’t believe the day Garang left us orphaned in the midst of a brutal regime. At that time the whole world needed him. Sudanese people wanted desperately to end the longest civil war that pits Arab-Muslims against African-Christians. But crying about that day does not help. The only tears we seek today are tears of joy, hope, human dignity, and liberty. No more tears of dehumanization, sadness or war.

Today I turn my soul-searching toward finding solutions for Sudan. My strength comes from my faith and my education. I have never stopped believing in God and in humanity. I trust my faith in God; I trust great leaders who guide others by good example and fight fiercely for greater democracy, freedom and equality for all.

However, simply praying to God for help without thinking ethically and rationally – without taking action – would not stop Omar al-Bashir’s regime. They have stolen Southern Sudanese land and resources, killed over 2.5 million people, and left another four million roaming the world as refugees, including me. War, starvation, malnutrition, poor sanitation, extreme poverty, curable diseases, HIV and AIDS plague millions. The poor are exploited by the powerful in the name of God, both Christian and Muslim. The poor are relying on God for help when genocide and chaos befall innocent children and women.

I have not turned to something negative, but to education, books, research, and telling my life story to soothe my soul and mind. The questions I ask myself are these: As a child survivor of war who is alive today, what is my mission to help Sudan? How long will my people suffer and remain enslaved in their ancient land?

As a Sudanese by nationality and by birth, and as one who has witnessed the havoc of war in my childhood, I have to be part of the solution–not only by seeking help from the international community, but also by taking concrete action myself. I have work to do.

No one person is born to change the world, but those who are committed to meeting life’s challenges, learning from man-made crises, and growing from them – they are capable of changing society.

That is why I have formed “Seeds of New Sudan & Friends”– to raise awareness globally and to promote the Comprehensive Peace Agreement as a principal solution to the crisis in Sudan. We look forward to accomplishing this first goal with the 2011 referendum, and to establishing Southern Sudan as an independent country. We are optimistic, learning and growing. We are committed to responding in this work–hand in hand with our allies worldwide–to rebuild Southern Sudan in the aftermath of the longest brutal civil war in Africa.

I cast my vote in honor of the millions of people lost in the war. My vote is dedicated to their sacrifices, to John Garang, SPLA veterans and soldiers from Anyanya I, the heroes and heroines who gave birth to the SPLA/SPLM of today (Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army and the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Movement). Those who have died did not do so in vain. Those who are alive today – including myself – will stay the course to the last victory. If I don’t make history, history will make me.

Indeed, history is in the making for Southern Sudan. Sudanese all over the globe are taking their vote in this referendum seriously. Southern Sudanese are raising their voices in unison to be heard for the first time. This is the time we Sudanese have been waiting for – redemption from agony and suffering, restoration of lasting peace and good governing – the culmination of our long walk to freedom.

May God guide us in the uncertainty of these final days of the realization of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and the separation of the largest African nation, the land of the blacks, the cradle of civilization, the land of Cush Kingdom, the land of the Nile, the land of warriors who are dark, smooth, tall, skinny, and brave people.

Check out Atem’s web site here.

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