By J1 reporter Evelyn Paul
Omaha hosts the largest number of South Sudanese refugees in the United States. On March 16, girls gathered in the Collaboration Room to watch “The Good Lie” and listen to speaker James Chol, a lost boy himself. “I wanted participants to learn about the plight of refugees in general and the particular losses suffered by those fleeing South Sudan specifically,” social studies teacher and Operation Welcome Club moderator Ms. Katy Salzman said.
The movie tells a story of five lost children of Sudan: Theo, Mamere, Jeremiah, Paul and Abital. They travel on foot from their village all the way to a refugee camp in Kenya after their village was destroyed by Northern militia. Along the way they see the death of children, adults, even their parents. Before they make it to the camp, their older brother Theo gets taken by the militia to save Mamere. They end up making it to the camp, but without their brother.
Mamere, Jeremiah, Paul and Abital stay in the camp for years. They finally make it onto a list that will bring them to America. However, when they arrive in America, Abital gets separated from them because there was no host that wanted her in Missouri, where her brothers were staying, and the refugee resettlement agency couldn’t allow her to stay with the boys. The boys experience some culture shock when they first arrive, but they eventually get used to it. They get jobs and go to school, living the American dream. They go through immeasurable struggles before the movie finishes off with a happy ending.
“The movie does a good job of illustrating the horrors of conflict, the importance of relationships in the camp and the difficulties refugees experience when arriving in the U.S. for the first time,” Salzman said.
Speaker James Chol came and spoke of his experiences after the movie ended. He explained how difficult living in the refugee camp was when he had eight children to take care of. The clothes that were provided weren’t enough for all of the people in their family. He had pieces of paper with the numbers one through five on them, whichever children had a piece of paper with one of the numbers received the donated clothing. That was the only way that he could make it fair. Because of how bad it was back home, his wife and children have never met his parents, their grandparents and in-laws face to face.
Arriving in America was difficult for him as well. He couldn’t speak a lot of English and he had to familiarize himself with the American ways very quickly. He and his wife work hard to provide for their children. He wants to get them through school and for them to make a good life for themselves. He plans on going back to school once he knows that they are all taken care of.
Operation Welcome helped move in furniture and food into a refugee apartment on April 11. They are a family of three from Bhutan and arrived on April 12. This family spent 15 to 20 years in a refugee camp in Nepal and had to go through two years of rigorous screening before they were allowed to leave. The mother also has a sister who lives in Omaha.
Members of Operation Welcome can help set up apartments for new refugees, make blankets in the winter and participate in public events. The biggest thing students can do to help is to educate themselves about refugees and their situations.
I’m not one who can say,‘Okay now I’m safe. I will close the door,’ I will say, ‘Okay let’s work on the refugees. The government will do whatever they want to do’.”
James Chol, Sudanese Refugee