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Sudanese refugees step forward to help countrywomen

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Just six months ago, the world’s newest nation — South Sudan — was born after a prolonged civil war in Sudan.

And just seven weeks ago, a new organization was born in Winnipeg, dedicated to the needs of women and children of and from that nation.

It’s called Manitoba Women 4 Women South Sudan.

"Most women in South Sudan have no voice, no recognition of their rights," founding president Arek Manyang explained. "If we can help even one woman, we can start to change the world."

The literacy rate for women in South Sudan today is only 12 per cent, and a 15-year-old girl has a greater chance of dying in childbirth than completing her education.

Seven of the 10 founders of the new group forged in Winnipeg came here as refugees.

"Lost Girl" Rebecca Atet Deng is one of them. She fled Sudan on bare feet in 1987, along with thousands of other children, to an Ethiopian refugee camp when she was just 13. That group of predominantly male children was dubbed "The Lost Boys of Sudan" by journalists, but their story could not have been further from a Peter Pan fairy tale. An estimated three in five of them died along the way of hunger, disease or animal attacks.

Atet Deng lived in refugee camps from 13 to 30, attaining a Grade 5 education before resettlement to Canada. Labelled "first wife" in a polygamous marriage, Atet Deng, with her own little boy and girl, was chosen to accompany her then-husband to Winnipeg in 2005.

After a University of Winnipeg forum on Sudan last year, Atet Deng spoke of her dream for a new organization that would focus on the needs of women and children from and of the area. Soon, Manyang and Elizabeth Akuch Andrea joined the conversation and the female founding group grew to 10 by last spring.

Seven weeks since the group has formed, it has dreams of providing daycare, tutoring, counselling and language services to women who have immigrated from South Sudan to Manitoba.

-- Marilou McPhedran

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