Basic human rights are something that many Canadians never have to think about. For some who are new to this country, the freedoms we enjoy are something they have never experienced.
Majok is a volunteer for the Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE). He came to Canada after spending 13 years in a refugee camp, after he was forced to flee his home in the South Sudan when he was only nine years old.
“I have been in a refugee camp for 13 years,” Majok said, before speaking to class at Ecole Mother Teresa School in Sylvan Lake on April 27. “When I started the journey from my country I was nine years old. I didn’t even know that we had become refugees.”
The Sudan has been continuously at war since 1983 and has resulted in the displacement of an estimated 3.2 million people throughout the world.
“We ran out of the house at night, when the village was attacked by unknown people,” Majok recalled. “We started running away to save our lives. We decided to move out of the country to another to become a refugee.”
Being safe from their village attackers was only the beginning for Majok’s family, as growing up in a UN refugee camp means struggling to meet basic needs.
“In that time there we faced a lot of challenges, like lack of food and no water,” he said. “It was hard for us to survive, but thank God we reached the other country, and then we were welcomed by the United Nations. We were given our primary needs like food, water and shelter. Moving to another place is difficult, especially with the sickness that came into the camp – it was hard. Everything is limited in a refugee camp.”
Majok’s experience in the refugee camp is what he spoke to the students at Mother Teresa about. The purpose of the talk on that day was human rights – something the students have been studying.
“I spent 13 years there, and I grew up there and learned about all the things people face in that kind of life,” Majok said about the camp. “I explain to them the lives of refugees and my experience. I want them to know that a refugee is a human and are people just like you. You can still live a normal life and deserve human rights.”
Majok’s journey since landing in Canada has been nothing but positive
“My journey took me from Nairobi to Amsterdam, and then Amsterdam to Calgary,” he explained. “I experienced being welcomed and was given the things we were lacking in my country.”
After being raised in a refugee camp that was lacking in education, Majok has been able to learn and discover many things since his arrival on Canadian soil.
“When I came to Red Deer, we had a meeting with the RCMP, who explained how life is in Canada,” he said. “I then got to know people and started learning more – things that I didn’t know while I was in my country.”
One of the very first things that Majok discovered was that Canadians are able to live freely.
“In a refugee camp, you can’t move around because you will be arrested. The police don’t trust people,” he explained “They tell you to stay at home to be safe. In Canada, I can move anywhere I want because I’m free.”
Being able to safely provide basic needs and help Majok and others like him is one of the basic tenets of CARE. Sadia Khan is the Public Awareness Coordinator for the organization, and enjoys being able to help put a human face on the global refugee crisis that the world is facing.
“We go into schools and talk about cultural awareness. Today we will be talking about human rights,” she explained. “Majok is our great wonderful volunteer, and he will share his experience, which is so beneficial to the students to hear that firsthand. I think the human face is so important. The students may hear it from social media or their parents, but really having someone in front of them saying ‘I’m a refugee’ can help them realize.”
A student being able to discover that a refugee is just a human being like them is vital, according to Khan.
“They become more empathetic, more understanding and can ask questions firsthand,” she explained.
“When we bring these volunteers to classes, the students realize that they are real people and they can relate to them.”
According to Khan, the Public Awareness Program has been “really effective” and has led to the students asking “wonderful questions.”
“It can be a huge impact on their lives,” Khan explained, adding that the community has been a huge asset to the work CARE does.
“When the refugees first came here, the community helped out a lot,” she said.