My Refugee Life
I come from Southern Sudan, which is now called South Sudan. It became an independent country in July of 2011. In 1983, John Garang started fighting for equality in wealth, power, religion, race, and resources. The civil war lasted for 23 years.
The ongoing civil war between the Christian-led Liberation Movement against the incumbent Islamist government had escalated. The rural areas where they grow rice, grain, and other foods were seized by the rebels, causing famine in Juba. I was selling in a flea market at that time. My slippers broke, and I could not buy new ones.
One day I decided to take money from the hip sack and bought shoes. My husband said, “Do you want this business to collapse?”
The government forces were defending Juba from the rebels who were bombing the town every day. We lived between the airport and the military barracks, which were main targets. So, in 1997, my husband, our two children, two and five years old, moved to Kenya (Dadaab Refugee Camp). It is located in North-Eastern Kenya, Garissa District.
I applied for resettlement on behalf of our family in 1997. I taught for two years in the camp. The education sector was under Care International management. I developed a network with the United Nations staff. As I followed up on my application, there was a lot of waiting and frustration. One day I was told that my application was missing. So, I decided to check the file of 500 applications and did not find mine. And then I wrote another copy. When I was eight months pregnant, I stood in line for 40 minutes in 50 degrees centigrade heat to follow up with my application.
The field officer told me that it was too hot for me to be there. I said to him that it is hot everywhere. He then shook his head and approved my application. In 1999 after having my third child, my family came to Canada, where women are free. I wanted to study nursing, but my husband did not want me to be independent. I was determined, and I did it. I am now a nurse.
I had found my own voice at last. But I know that the first step towards making this change was when I bought those slippers. They were dear to me. I kept them clean and safe. They were my turning point. It all started when I said, “Yes, I bought those shoes. Yes, I am applying for resettlement. No, I will not leave this lineup. Yes, I will be a nurse.” But it all started when I first said, “Yes, I will buy these shoes.”
KIDEN JONATHAN and her children spent years living in a refugee camp. She trained as a nurse and taught in the primary school there and paid special attention to encouraging girls to stay in school and avoid early marriage. Now that she and her family live safely in Canada, she works as a writer and a public speaker. “I spent the last 27 years running from myself, and who I knew I could be. I now use my new-found home and voice to educate others on the power of self-discovery and self-care.”