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This article by Euna Kwon Brossman was prepared for the April 26, 2006

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A Sudanese Refugee Finds Peace

While the war in Iraq makes headlines every day, there is another war

going on in a different part of the world that doesn’t cry out for

international attention, but is no less bloody and ugly in its

revelation of the atrocities that human beings are capable of

inflicting upon one another.

In Sudan, as in the Middle East, the war is one of ideology, in this

case, rebels from the Christian south fighting with forces loyal to

the government of the Arab and Islamic faithful in the north. The

ongoing civil war has caused the deaths of nearly 2 million people

since 1983, according to the United States Committee for Refugees.

The fight for control of southern and central Sudan has killed one in

five in the southern Sudan, some by warfare, many others, especially

children, by war-induced famine. More than 70,000 people have died in

the first six months of this year alone, according to the humanitarian

agency, and another 350,000 have fled as refugees to other countries.

One of those refugees is Emmanuel Mathiang, who was born in Sudan and

grew up as a Christian in the northern region, which is mostly Muslim.

He now makes his home in Trenton with his wife, Veronica, and their

four children. Once a victim of the violence in his homeland, he still

keeps an eye on the war in Sudan from afar, with a wish in his heart

to one day return home. "I hope for peace. I hope to take my children

to see my country, to see their country, but not this way. It is not

the right time," he says.

One of the many humanitarian groups working to alleviate some of the

human misery caused by Sudan’s civil war is Doctors Without

Borders/Medicins Sans Frontieres. Doctors Without Borders delivers

water, medical care, and food to the hundreds of thousands of people

in refugee camps. Epidemics of yellow fever, meningitis and malaria

pose just as much of a threat as death by bullets. Doctors Without

Borders responds to those needs as well with teams of international

volunteers working with native Sudanese to bring relief.

And now the organization that gives so much help to others is

receiving help of its own. The Piano Teachers Forum of Central Jersey

Outreach, an association of area piano teachers, is holding a benefit

concert for the Sudan on Saturday, April 29, from 1 to5 p.m., at the

Suzanne Patterson Center in Princeton. All of the monies collected

will go directly to Doctors Without Borders to help with its

humanitarian mission in Sudan. Mathiang is grateful. "I feel like this

group is doing such a great job. They are thinking about people they

don’t know, have never met, and they are helping them. It is

heartbreaking in my country but it touches my heart when I know that

people who don’t know anyone in Sudan are helping my countrymen."

Mathiang knows what devastation the war has brought to his homeland,

since he experienced its brutality firsthand. "The war is terrible.

You always knew it could be the end of your life. You never knew if it

would be your last minute." He was the second of twelve children born

to a father who was an airplane technician and a mother who was a

homemaker. He had only been in college for two years when Sudan’s

civil war broke out in 1992. "It was a mess. Everyone scattered. We

were all of the same country but the war was between religions."

Raised as a Christian, Mathiang became a teacher with the Catholic

church. Says Mathiang: "I was training people. I would travel from

state to state telling people how they could use Christianity to

benefit their families. The government and the people in the north

didn’t like that. They said to me, `You’re a nice guy, educated, why

don’t you become a Muslim." He says they offered him money, a house,

and a car if he would convert. And when he said no, the nudging turned

violent. "They accused me of helping the rebels. They detained me. The

first time it was four days, the second time four days, and then the

third time, it was two full weeks. They treated me very badly. They

fed me only once a day. They wouldn’t let me sleep. They would make me

stand up all day, and most of the time, they beat me."

Mathiang endured his worst ordeals with the government in 1999. Even

after being released from detainment, he says the authorities did all

they could to prevent him from embracing his religion and sharing it

with others. "They made me sign papers that said I would not be

allowed to be in a gathering of more than five people and of course,

they meant I was not allowed to go to church because that was more

than five people. I was not allowed to leave the state without their

permission. I had a curfew. I was not allowed to be out of my house

after 6 p.m. I had to report to the security office every morning for

the first two weeks after my imprisonment. That eventually got reduced

to every other day but still, I was not free."

Finally, the shackles on his freedom to worship and teach became so

restraining, the church authority advised Mathiang to take his family

and leave the country. The church also feared for their safety as

well, and helped them with all the necessary exit papers to leave

Sudan. Mathiang took his wife and his children, then aged 10, 8, and

4, and escaped to Egypt, traveling by boat on the River Nile. They

settled in Egypt and lived there for the next 15 months. A fourth baby

was born.

"But the situation for me was getting worse and worse for me

politically," says Mathiang. "The Sudanese government found out I was

in Egypt. So I didn’t feel safe. I went to the United Nations High

Commission for Refugees and applied for protection under refugee

status." He was sent to the American Embassy for resettlement. "In

just two weeks they told me we have prepared to send you to the United

States. They told me they had a visa for me. I told them I have no

money, and I’m scared. They told me when you get there and get a job,

you can pay us back. They bought me tickets and everything."

Mathiang and his young family left Egypt in July, 2000, and headed to

the United States for a new life. The government helped him settle in

north Trenton, where adjustment to the language and culture came

slowly and with some difficulty. "It was very, very tough. I came here

and there were no other Sudanese people. We were the first Sudanese

family to come to Trenton." His English was very limited; the native

language of Sudan is called Dinka. Mathiang says he painstakingly

taught himself the language of his new country, determined to fit in

as soon as possible. "I had an English-Arabic dictionary because I

spoke Arabic. Every night I made myself learn 10 to 15 new words in

English. I used the skills I had used as a teacher in Sudan to teach

myself English." His children, however, were a different story. "In

less than six months my kids spoke English well. For kids, it’s

amazing how they can pick up a new language so quickly."

The young family members who escaped with him to Egypt are growing up.

Evelin, now 15, is a sophomore at Trenton High School. Josephine, 13,

is in middle school in Trenton, and Karem, 10, is a fourth grader. The

baby born in Egypt, Avram, is now six years old, a first-grader at

Grand Elementary School.

Mathiang has carved out a new life for himself and a new profession as

a patient care assistant at Capital Health System. His wife, Veronica,

works at American Standard assembling air conditioners and heaters. He

says life has gotten easier in his adopted land with time, especially

now that there’s a small community of Sudanese refugees in Trenton.

"We have about six or seven families, maybe about a dozen more people,

a good number. There’s a large community of Sudanese in Georgia and in

Missouri. We meet online, share ideas and things like that, and often

talk about what’s going on back home."

Mathiang says that even though his memories of home are not great, he

still misses his country. "I feel like a Sudanese but I also feel like

an American now." Along with a desire to one day see his country

again, he also wishes for peace. "I would like to see everybody get

along, no killing. I saw a lot of violence. When security is supposed

to protect people and then they actually kill people, arrest them, put

them in jail, beat them to death, that’s what’s horrible."

Concert to Benefit Doctors Without Borders, Saturday, April 29, 1 to 5

p.m., Piano Teachers’ Forum, Suzanne Patterson Center, Monument Drive,

Princeton. Concert featuring live bands, ensembles, and soloists to

benefit Doctors Without Borders working in Darfur, Sudan. Free-will

offering. 609-584-7152


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