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Spreading the word

Local refugee tries to help others learn about Sudan through Web site

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The horrors of Sudan, halfway across the world, still chug in Duop Wuol's veins, urging him to do something.

So this month, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs philosophy major, husband, father of four, and former Southern Sudan refugee waged a truly all-American protest: He started a Web site. Wuol is hoping southsudannewsagency.com will keep the public informed about conflict in Sudan, and maybe even lead to organized efforts to help people there.

The official-looking Web site was put together by Wuol, a couple of friends, and a cousin. It still has plenty of room to grow, and Wuol is hoping to get contributors from around the world to fill out the content. Right now, the articles are being written by friends. Wuol says he knows of other organizations that help the Sudanese, but he hasn't come across a one-stop Web site for up-to-date information on his country and its people. It's a void he's hoping to fill. Eventually, he'd like the site to be a nonprofit that accepts donations for the people of Sudan, but he's taking it one step at a time.

Wuol and his younger brother immigrated to Boise, Idaho in 2000. It was the chance of a lifetime, but it meant leaving family behind. Wuol sends what money he can spare — he was recently laid off — but he knows it's not enough.

"What makes me upset is me," Wuol says. "I'm staying here, and they live in a worse place."

Sudan's most recent civil war started in 1956. Northern and Southern Sudan didn't share a language. The north had a large government, while the south governed mostly through tribal leadership. The north was largely Islamic; the south housed Christian, Islamic, animist and indigenous beliefs. The south had more resources, including oil, while the north had more infrastructure.

There have been few breaks in north-south fighting over the past half-century, and more than 1.5 million have died, according to the United Nations. In 2005, however, the two sides negotiated a pact allowing the south to secede in 2011 if it chooses. Meanwhile, the war has quieted, with the north battling the people of western Darfur.

Andrea Kaufmann of World Relief, a Christian nonprofit in Sudan, says refugees are returning to Southern Sudan: "Definitely things are improving, but it's very slow. You're talking about a population that has lived in civil war for generations."

And there's fear that come 2011, the civil war will reignite.

Child of war

The first turning point in Wuol's life was a massacre.

Life in the war-torn country was harsh by most standards, yet Wuol's memories are almost pastoral. He recalls his father's jokes, children congregating in dirt streets to sing and dance, and tribal leaders wisely settling disputes between neighbors. His family had "many cows" — the indicator of wealth in that part of Africa — and Wuol's outspoken dad was a Presbyterian church elder.

"The problem [was that] there were a lot of people disappearing," Wuol says.

When plainclothes "police" from the north took people, they were rarely seen again — and their extended families were at risk.

When Wuol was young, his great uncle, a former member of Sudan's Parliament, was arrested during the night. The uncle's body was later returned to his family. He had been shot to death.

Wuol never saw his father's body. The day police opened fire on the Presbyterian church, Wuol's mother took her children and fled before police came for them as well. She and the children, along with many village people, walked all the way to Ethiopia.

"We were thirsty and hungry," Wuol remembers. "There was nothing to eat."

In 1984, the family settled in a refugee camp, where a good year meant a slightly larger portion of gruel. Rations were so small that a family could easily eat a "15-day" supply in a single sitting.

"That food," Wuol says, "was to keep you from dying."

Things were worse in Sudan. Many of Wuol's childhood friends, forced into rebel military groups, were shot or eaten by crocodiles.

In 1991, Ethiopia's government was overthrown, and the Sudanese refugee families fled the country. Hunkered down on the border between the two countries, Wuol's mother grew ill and died. An older brother was lost in the confusion.

When the conflict subsided, the family's remaining members went to a new Ethiopian camp where Wuol was educated. School was thrilling aside from the rotten food, which caused students to regularly vomit in the lunchroom.

After graduating, Wuol applied to leave the country and married his childhood love, a girl he met in the camps. Their fathers had been friends.

One month after his wedding in 2000, Wuol and his brother were approved to move to America.

Wuol didn't see his wife again for three years, when she was finally able to come to America and join him.

Coming to America

The tribal scars remain across his forehead, but on his feet, Wuol wears Air Jordans. He generally fits into his adopted country just fine. But it took a while. When Wuol came to Idaho, the most complex machine he had seen was a telephone. He and his brother struggled to use a stove. The dishwasher was almost beyond comprehension.

Wuol had always assumed the rest of the world was "a little bit like Ethiopia."

After a short stay in Idaho, Wuol and his brother moved to Minnesota, where a cousin lived. Coming from the heat of Africa, Wuol found the frigid weather unbearable, and he later moved to Colorado Springs, where other Sudanese refugees told him it was warmer. Now Wuol is settled in happily on the east side with his wife and kids.

Last year, he went back to meet his lost brother, located through family members. The brother, approaching 40, is unmarried and has "no cows."

After that, Wuol started moving forward with the Web site.

"There currently are many problems in Sudan that need to be exposed to the outsiders," Wuol writes in an e-mail. "... I always think about what had been done to my family by the government."

stanley@csindy.com

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