Jacob Akol and Mangouch Chol:
A Collaborative Essay

by Kristin Foss and Emily Tuberville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jacob Akol Thon Chol

 

While participating in this service learning project, we have found many similarities between the experiences Jacob and Chol have had in America. After spending a lot of time individually with Jacob and Chol as well as attending many Dinka services at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, we have come to deeply value this community as a whole while gaining tremendous respect for their perseverance. During our interdisciplinary studies class, Sudan: A World in Conflict, we have learned about the civil wars that have plagued the nation of Sudan, destroying cultures, villages, and families. This experience has not only opened our eyes to global issues, but it has also allowed us to examine our government’s reaction to the problems in Sudan and society’s response to the refugees who have relocated here. Through our interviews with Jacob and Chol, we have seen how the Sudanese refugees have sought to gain an education, assimilated into American society, and fought to preserve the Dinka culture.

One of the main focuses of our project was to observe the livelihood of the Sudanese refugees in Jackson, Mississippi. In order to accomplish this, we interviewed Jacob and Chol hoping to gain some insight into the life of a relocated refugee. In our interviews and time spent with these new friends, we were able to learn a lot about the value of education. Despite the academic efforts of the Pinyudo and Kakuma refugee camps, both Jacob and Chol concluded that education was the main motivation for their relocation to America. In the United States, they could strive to obtain a collegiate degree that would enable them to contribute to the reconstruction of southern Sudan. Jacob is working towards an associate’s degree in business, in hopes that he may one day own his own business which would allow him to give back to his Sudanese countrymen and to support his family. Chol, on the other hand, desires to become an electrician so that he can aid the development of Sudan. Education is not only a vital tool for individual success, but it is an imperative aspect to the growth of a nation. Jacob and Chol, as members of the future generation of Sudan, are working to earn the tools needed to rebuild their communities.

In addition to their academic career, both Jacob and Chol are required to work full time jobs in order to support themselves. Even though language barriers and societal transitions are daunting, they have both been able to find jobs in the Jackson area. Specifically, Jacob works behind the scenes at Sal and Mookies and Bravo restaurants, assisting with food preparation. After visiting Jacob’s workplace with him, we found that his coworkers were welcoming and respectful to him. He seems to enjoy his work environment, allowing him to build relationships with his coworkers. Chol, a member of the maintenance and janitorial staff at University Medical Center, finds pride in his work. With confidence, he conveys ownership of his duties and commits genuine effort to his tasks. Though their jobs do not offer significant financial stability or many opportunities for social mobility, Jacob and Chol are grateful for the possibility of employment in America.

While balancing both work and school, Jacob and Chol find minimal opportunities for leisure. However, when they do have the time to relax, both Jacob and Chol enjoy playing soccer with the local Sudanese community. In addition, they have adopted American cultural tendencies, such as food preferences and music tastes. For example, they occasionally enjoy eating the traditional American hamburger or pizza and listening to rap music. During our interview with Jacob, he wore an oversized jersey, baggy pants, and a gold necklace. Through his music tastes, wardrobe choices, and conversation, it was evident that he models American celebrities. Similarly, Chol really enjoys rap music as an aspect of American culture.

Even though it seems they have been able to assimilate into American society, there is a strong sense of hardship and loss of cultural identity. Due to language barriers and differences in educational status, survival in America has not been easy. Back in Sudan, their relatives have the misconception that American life offers endless opportunity, wealth, and comfort. But realistically, Jacob and Chol have little financial freedom between providing for their families in Sudan and supporting themselves in our materialistic society. In addition to logistical and financial struggles, the refugees face loneliness and a lack of hope, as they yearn for a direct connection to their native community. Even though the local Jackson Sudanese community is tight-knit, this does not fulfill their desire to be with their families in their homeland.

As they seek to maintain a strong sense of community, the Sudanese refugees, along with dedicated Jackson volunteers, have created opportunities to preserve their culture. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church holds special services in Dinka for local refugees on Saturday evenings. Here, refugees come together to worship in their native language. Among Jackson area refugees, this has been an imperative means for creating community and preserving Sudanese culture. However, in cities across the nation, other Sudanese refugees lack opportunities for building relationships and maintaining their cultural heritage. Government aid organizations have not provided adequate programs for cultural preservation or appropriate orientations for assimilation into American society. In the Jackson area, it is the dedication and support of volunteers that continues to keep the Sudanese united as a community. Though it has been a very positive experience for Jackson area refugees, government organizations must acknowledge the need for preservation of the Dinka culture.

In conclusion, this service learning project has given us the opportunity to learn about a micro-culture within our own society. After learning about the history and conflicts of Sudan in class, we have been exposed to the reality of the implications of civil war. Despite the atrocities they have faced, Jacob and Chol have shown us that it is possible to still have hope for a peaceful life and a better Sudan. Through this experience, we have found inspiration, as Jacob and Chol have given us a new perspective on humanity. Despite cultural differences and historical conflicts, peace is an absolute necessity in every society.