‘I was just so scared,’ Winnipeg woman caught in middle of violent clash in South Sudan

Hundreds are dead as tensions continue to rise in the country

By Austin Grabish, CBC News

Posted: Jul 22, 2016 5:00 AM CT
Last Updated: Jul 22, 2016 5:00 AM CT

Elizabeth Andrea, 51, returned to Winnipeg from South Sudan on Thursday, July 21st. The Winnipeg grandma had to take cover during a violent clash between South Sudan’s government and rebel forces earlier this month.
Elizabeth Andrea, 51, returned to Winnipeg from South Sudan on Thursday, July 21st. The Winnipeg grandma had to take cover during a violent clash between South Sudan’s government and rebel forces earlier this month. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

When Elizabeth Andrea saw the armoured car, she knew something wasn’t right. But when she saw people running, she knew she had to take cover.

The Winnipeg grandmother returned home Thursday from a peacekeeping trip to Rumbek that came to a crashing halt due to escalating violence in South Sudan.

Recent clashes between the country’s military and rebel forces have left at least 300 dead. Andrea was in Juba, South Sudan’s capital when fighting erupted on July 7th.

“We saw people running,” she said. “We saw the bodies.”

Andrea said she ran to the concrete home she was staying in when the violent clash happened and credits it with saving her life.

“I was just so scared.”

Speaking in her Winnipeg home Thursday, she said she thought to herself, “I’m there. My children are here, and somebody could die anytime.”

She said she worried she was going to be caught in the crossfire when she was trying to make it home to Winnipeg. The country’s airport was shut down due to the escalating violence, and the Canadian embassy was also closed.

‘We didn’t expect that kind of thing would happen again’

Andrea, who immigrated to Winnipeg in 1998 from South Sudan, said the killings in her country shocked her.

“We didn’t expect that kind of thing would happen again.”

“It’s out of control,” she said as a poster of Nelson Mandela hanging in her living room peeked over her shoulder.

South Sudanese community grappling with news

Reuben Garang, a South Sudanese man, who is better known as a ‘Lost Boy’ for fleeing his country in 1987 with thousands of other children, said the news coming from home is “very disturbing.”

lost boy
Reuben Garang, who is known as a ‘Lost Boy’ for fleeing South Sudan in 1987 with thousands of other children, said Winnipeg’s South Sudanese community is trying to stay united. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

“For a long time, I have never lost hope. This time, it’s very difficult for me not to say that I’m not losing hope, and this is because of the complexity of the situation,” Garang told CBC Radio Thursday.

Garang said the war is creating division in the South Sudanese community, and its local leaders are trying to keep people united.

“It is very difficult to imagine that our own leaders, people that have helped in the struggle (for independence) have turned the country into a killing ground.”

Andrea said despite the violence, she remains hopeful the government and opposition forces will be able to work out a peace agreement.

“We want our people to live in peace.”

Advertisements

‘Lost girl’ returns to South Sudan to find hundreds slaughtered

Rebecca Deng, who fled to Winnipeg in 2005, back in South Sudan to start women’s centre

By Austin Grabish, CBC News

Posted: Jul 19, 2016 1:34 PM CT
Last Updated: Jul 19, 2016 7:42 PM CT
Rebecca Deng, who fled to Winnipeg more than a decade ago, says she was shocked to return home to South Sudan to find hundreds of people slaughtered.

A South Sudanese woman who fled to Winnipeg a decade ago says she’s in shock after returning home to find hundreds of people slaughtered.

“I thought my country would be in peace. I thought nothing would happen again,” Rebecca Deng told CBC when reached by phone in Juba, South Sudan.

Deng arrived in South Sudan, on July 6 to help start a women’s resource centre in the city.

But a clash between rebel forces and the country’s military, which has left hundreds dead, including women and children, has stalled her plan to empower women.

When Deng arrived, bodies lay outside the compound where she’s staying, and heavy fighting continued until Sunday.

“You don’t even know who’s fighting with who. People are wearing the same uniform and carrying the same gun,” she said.

During the violence, soldiers were drinking and then raping women, Deng said.

“It’s so, so painful seeing a pregnant woman being raped and you can’t talk. If you talk, you got shot,” Deng said.

Troops took Deng’s cellphone away and detained her for over an hour for taking a photo of women crossing the road.

“Not even take a picture of the body,” she said, speaking of the many bodies that have littered the ground.

“It’s easy to get shot, so you have to be careful,”

‘I’m not giving up’

The mood has calmed in Juba, but people are now searching for food because thieves looted homes and markets during the violence, said Deng.

“For the children and women, there is no food,” she said.

Deng is leaving Juba Wednesday but is to return to South Sudan in a few weeks to start work on a women’s centre in Bor, where 33 women were killed in 2013.

“I’m not giving up. I’m still carrying on my vision with other women.… I want to support the women. I want to show them that we share the same pain.”

In 1987, when she was 13, Deng and thousands of other South Sudanese children fled for an Ethiopian refugee camp.

The children became known as the lost boys and girls of South Sudan.

Deng has lived in Winnipeg since 2005 and is a human rights student at the University of Winnipeg.

APTOPIX South Sudan Rebels Return

South Sudanese rebel soldiers raise their weapons at a military camp in the capital Juba, South Sudan, on April 7. (Jason Patinkin/Associated Press)

Shining a light on the Mexican Revolution

IMG_9114
Victor Ramirez

Victor Ramirez wasn’t surprised I didn’t know what the Mexican Revolution was.

That’s the point of the photo gallery he and his partner Ingo brought to the Exchange Community Church for Culture Days last weekend — enlighten folks about a rebellion that is said to have killed at least one million people.

Make it “real” for people, said Ramirez, a culture liaison for the Mex y Can Association of Manitoba.

“Most of these part of history people don’t know.”

But still, I can’t help wonder why I didn’t hear about the revolution until last Friday.

IMG_9101
Ingo Lamerz explains the story behind a photo to a visitor at a photo gallery on the Mexican Revolution displayed at Exchange Community Church for Culture Days on Sept. 25.

A couple dozen photos dug up out of Mexican and university archives over the last two years help paint a disturbing picture of the brutal five-year fight for independence Mexican citizens started in 1910.

“It was a movement from the people,” Ramirez said.

“We are proud of what we accomplished through all those changes.”

But the change came at a cost.

A cost to children who were forced to go to war with hefty belts of ammunition barrelling down on their fragile bodies.

And a cost to women who did the same.

It doesn’t get much realer than that.

Note: Due to copyright restrictions imposed on Ramirez, I have agreed not to post any close-ups showing photos in the gallery, but if you’re interested there’s Google!

IMG_9132