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Dreams of home will soon come to pass, say Sudanese refugees

BUSINESS
By | January 26th 2011

By Peter Atsiaya

"I’m ready to drop everything and rush back home to participate in building our nation," enthuses Victoria Mathew, 47, the headteacher of a primary school at Kakuma refugee camp.

"That’s has always been my dream," Paul Manyok, a Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) official at Kakuma responds when asked about the prospects of returning home.

These views were echoed by many Sudanese nationals at the Kakuma refugee camp after casting a ballot in the recent referendum that could spawn the latest nation in Africa.

But the dream of returning home, after years as refugees, remains a daunting task.

Most do not know where to begin, having lost contact with their kin back home.

Some are widows or orphans, while others are homeless after their houses were destroyed during the war that lasted 22 years.

A majority of refugees fear their fortunes might not improve if they relocate to Southern Sudan but are not resettled.

But for Mathew, nothing will stand in her way and home. The headmistress of Baar El Naam Primary School is confident that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

HOME SWEET HOME

"I’m tired of being a refugee. I have been a refugee for more than 40 years and it would be sweet to go back home, whether there will be a house, food, water or nothing," she declared.

She went on: "I fled Sudan when I was aged seven and sought refuge in Ethiopia. I ended up in Kenya in 1996 when I learnt that life in Kenya was more bearable than in Ethiopia, and I have lived here since then," narrated Matthew, who is among teachers employed by Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Kakuma.

A Southern Sudan woman pictured in Juba during the independence referendum. [PHOTOS: PETER OCHIENG’ ]

DEAD OR ALIVE

When asked where her family is, Mathew starred blankly before saying: "I don’t know where they are. We parted ways when I was too young. I don’t know where even my parents are. I don’t know whether they are alive or not."

"I don’t even know where our home is, although I was told we lived around Juba," the soft-spoken English teacher said.

Mathew hopes to quit her job and go back home and take up teaching.

"Teaching is in my blood. I have helped children here at the camp but I have a strong belief that I can do better at home where education is in a shambles," she explained.

Matthew wants the Kenya Government and The Government of Southern Sudan and humanitarian organisations to assist refugees make a fresh start.

Hellena Nang’oko, 61, says there is no turning back in her efforts to return home. She lost – her husband during the war and later lost her two children due to tough living. "I fled our home at Chukdum in Eastern Equatorial and fled to Kenya 15 years ago," Nang’oko said through a translator. "I left my husband behind because he was not ready to come along with me," she recalled.

"I cannot tell whether my farm is still there. But if I am assisted I can trace my roots and settle in the village and resume my farming activities that our family depended on," she added.

She added that although the residents of Turkana West district were hosting them, they were tired of the abuses and bad treatment they received.

"Sometimes they hurl insults at us after a disagreement and we feel we have had enough. We should leave them alone," she added.

TOUCHING KINDNESS

"But as a mother I cannot forget how good some Kenyans have been to us. Humanitarian organisations too have enabled us live for all these years," she added.

Similarly, Abuk Ajak Atem, a 35-year-old mother of five, is excited about the prospects of returning home, although she doesn’t know where to begin.

She says her husband, Arok Deng, is a soldier with Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) but they have not talked or met for more than 10 years.

"I recall we moved from Jongulei in Twic East area. I don?’t know if our property is there or not," she said.

Dominic Lokorio, 25, has lived in Kenya for 15 years and is married with two children. He also wants to go back home and take his children to local schools in his Loremai Buri County in Southern Sudan.

BETTER LIVES

The refugees hope that Government and NGOs will work together to ensure that they go back home and live a better life than what they have been going through in the refugee camps across the country.

The outcome of the referendum shall be made public in a few weeks. Thousands of people cast their ballots during a weeklong vote to choose the destiny of the war-ravaged and desperately poor but oil-rich region.

Then the Southern Sudan Diaspora shall know the day of their return is at hand.

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