This is my story. I am a young South Sudanese.

In my Bari Traditional Attire

When I sit alone sometimes, as I do often over here in the United States, I get to thinking. And I come to the realization that I spent so much of my life trying to survive, and sometimes barely doing so, rather than doing what children should do, namely working to improve my potential and strengths, and building my talents, all while nurturing my hopes and dreams.
When I look at other people who are my age — people from other parts of the African continent not to mention the rest of the world – they seem to me to be better informed, more educated, more traveled and exposed to different experiences than I. That makes me realize that as a young person growing up in South Sudan, I was deprived of so much. I grew up in the midst of what was one of Africa’s longest civil wars. I ran from death and lived as an internally displaced person or as refugees in camps, where the conditions were deplorable. I was deprived of a decent life, meals and education at an early age.
I was always one of the oldest pupils in my class, and worked twice as hard as others to get a chance to be admitted to good schools. I walked many miles to attend class. I was thrown out of school because my parents couldn’t afford the fees. I had endless reasons to give up, yet my mother would always tell us that she expected us to work harder and not be like her, to work hard and lead better lives than hers. So I would put my nose back to the grindstone and keep working.
There are other moments in my childhood that I remember with fondness, though: my mother teaching me to light a fire and prepare meals, pinching me when I sat like a boy, singing songs to my siblings and me during the rainy season as we sat by the fire in the middle of our hut eating boiled sweet potatoes with peanut butter. I remember the traditional dances that lasted for days on end and the endless stories told by our grandmother. They always ended in hysterical laughter. When I think of those times, I yearn for the beautiful days of my childhood.
But then, I come back to reality and I know I have more obstacles to overcome.
In my quest to improve myself, I have to take on even greater challenges, compete harder for opportunities, make more sacrifices. I have to deal with cultural and traditional prejudices in my own community e.g. women expected to be married young.
But the greatest challenge for me, and I quote my mum here, is: how can I ensure that my children and grandchildren will have better opportunities and lead better lives than mine? How can I make sure they feel like part of this global village?
The opportunity to meet new people and expose oneself to the outside world gives us the opportunity to learn new things, change perspectives, and understand why things happen the way they do. It also gives us ideas that help to solve problems and overcome obstacles. Sharing our stories makes us empathize and bond more with others, and the Atlas Corps Fellowship has given me the rare opportunity to do just that — proudly share my story.
This is my story. I am a young South Sudanese.