News: A refugee’s journey to become a humanitarian
Story by Sgt. Michael Selvage
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - Hearing the words refugee camp, some people might picture a large plot of land with tents pitched with starving people gathered waiting for their next meal.
This, however, was not the case for Pfc. Anthony Lodiong, a U.S. Army logistician with the 10th Sustainment Brigade, who might have even pictured that himself while he was traveling from South Sudan to Uganda. He went into exile in 1993 in an effort to avoid being forced to fight for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army at the age of 9.
When Lodiong went into exile, he lived with his uncle at the U.N. Magburu refugee settlement where he went to school, church and worked on the farm that provided food for his family.
He said the conditions in Uganda were not a hard as they were back in Sudan.
“It was different because it was peaceful, you do not live with anxiety or fear that someone is coming to take you away at night,” said Lodiong. “There was no more fear for the Antinov that normally comes. When you hear the sound, you ran into a pit or bunker hoping that the bomb doesn't fall close to you. It was easier to concentrate in school with no fear of being separated from your family if an attack occurs.”
He said the Antonov is a war plane that the Sudan government normally sent to bomb cities that have been taken over by the SPLA.
“I did not really miss South Sudan so much because my own understanding was that it is a dangerous place to live in,” said Lodiong.
Some families had multiple huts depending on the size of the family. Lodiong would sleep in the hut his family used as a kitchen.
“For other people there could be up to 10 people sleeping in one room,” said Lodiong. “I was lucky because I was the only boy at my uncle’s house. I was happy because I got my own room even if it was the kitchen; at least it was my own room.”
Even after Lodiong fled, Sudan was still at war with itself.
“At the end of 1994, the war got serious in South Sudan all the way down to Kaya,” he said. “My mother ended up making her way to Uganda, but my uncle decided that since I had already been living with him that I should stay with him.”
Lodiong’s mother went to a refugee camp about 50 miles away from the settlement.
Lodiong said he didn’t mind staying with his uncle because he was already settled in to his new school.
“Every once in a while I was able to go visit and check up on her,” he said.
Lodiong finished most of nursery while growing up in Sudan, and went right into primary school, which is similar to elementary and middle school.
“As long as I was going to school, I never cared about anything else,” said Lodiong.
Getting to school was not as easy as going to the bus stop and riding a bus to school like some students might do in the U.S.
He had to wake up at 5 a.m. and walk four miles to school. After school, he would walk back to the refugee settlement.
Lodiong said he was lucky because the school he attended was established, made of bricks and had a sheet metal roof.
“The other schools were made of grass and the students sat on logs,” he said. “I was happy because I didn’t have to go to a school like that. I went to a school like that back in Sudan when I was in nursery.”
Lodiong said he never had any problems when it came to school work.
“During class I was very attentive and serious,” he said. “I had to make sure I understood what was being taught. I would sometimes even ask for books to take home to read.”
He said the most challenging part about school was getting up early every day and making the trek to and from school.
He moved in with his mom in 1997. That is where he finished his last class of primary school.
Lodiong did so well in primary school he received a full scholarship from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugee for his secondary school, which is a four-year-long school that is equivalent to high school. Students didn’t normally receive full scholarships due to cost share.
He said he was luck to receive a full scholarship to his secondary school.
“Secondary school is a boarding school,” said Lodiong. “By that I mean you go and live there.”
Lodiong stayed at the boarding school all four years only returning to the refugee settlement on holiday breaks. After finishing ordinary secondary school, he went on to advanced secondary school, which was also a boarding school but only two years long.
“The advanced secondary school was in another district,” said Lodiong. “That’s probably 80 miles away. At that time, there was no public transportation in that area. Most of the students would get a group together, get your case on your head if you don’t have a bicycle and we would walk as a team. You wake up very early in the morning. You get there the following day.”
Lodiong said the second year in advanced secondary school is when the public transportation began to get better with buses and motorcycle taxis.
He finished the advanced secondary school and he received a scholarship from the Hugh Pilkington Charitable Trust.
Lodiong finished college in September 2006 and decided to teach until he saved enough money to make his way back to South Sudan since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005.
The CPA was a set of agreements culminating in January 2005 that were signed between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and the Government of Sudan. The CPA was meant to end the Second Sudanese Civil War, develop democratic governance countrywide and share oil revenues.
“Following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, I felt I should go and contribute in rebuilding the nation, though I have always thought that it would never ever be totally peaceful,” said Lodiong. “It had to start from scratch. There was a request for people who had gone through school to help with the development.”
In January 2007 Lodiong moved back to South Sudan.
Lodiong said as a child the living conditions were better in Uganda than they were in Sudan.
“After going back, life was better for me than when I was in Uganda,” said Lodiong. “I drove my own car to work. I was able to see most of my relatives that I didn't see in over 14 years.”
His true passion wasn’t to teach, but to become a journalist.
“The teaching profession that I took in college was not exactly my degree of interest, but the scholarships are based on something that can help out the community after you finish,” said Lodiong. “My interest at that time was really journalism.”
The only media office in South Sudan was the Juba Post, which was in the capital.
Lodiong went to the Juba Post in search of a job and talked to the editor.
“I told him that I was interested in journalism,” said Lodiong.
The editor asked Lodiong to return the following day to start his two weeks of training before working for the Juba Post writing articles.
Seeking even more training, Lodiong applied for radio journalism training.
“One week later I was told I was successful and I had to get ready to go to Khartoum, Sudan for the radio journalism training,” he said. “I was interested in getting all the necessary skills in what I was trying to practice.”
After resigning from his position as a reporter at the Juba Post, Lodiong headed to Khartoum for his training.
“When I returned from the training, I got an ad for the Free Voice Foundation,” said Lodiong. “I applied because it was a humanitarian organization that was supported by the Dutch government. They had a project called ‘Safe at home in South Sudan.’”
While working for Free Voice, Lodiong was a researcher and journalist who went out to the neighboring countries, such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, and talked with refugees about returning to South Sudan since the CPA was signed.
Lodiong’s findings and reports were turned into a radio drama, which was a way to inform South Sudan refugee’s on the changes that had happened.
He only worked for Free Voice for approximately a year before he went to work for Save the Children.
Lodiong wanted to do something that made a greater impact, something he could see the improvements he contributed to.
“In December 2008 I saw the ad identifying that they needed a communications officer,” said Lodiong. “I read the job description and it was exactly what I have been doing except it would be mostly in South Sudan, so I applied.”
He had an interview in January 2009 and a few days later he was told to report for work February.
“I liked Save the Children because they provided more training and it was a greater humanitarian project,” said Lodiong. “They established schools, not made from grass and mud. They also provided scholastic materials like books and pens as well as clinics in the rural areas so people can receive needed treatment.”
Lodiong said that he had an emotional connection with the people he was trying to help and recalled a memory that has stuck with him.
“I felt so sad when I saw a mother in Maiwut County, Upper Nile Sate, got a cup of water from the river that was brown water,” said Lodiong. [She] gave it to her child and then she drank it too.”
There are 10 states that make up South Sudan and Save the Children was working with all of them.
“My duty as a communications officer was go to out to all the areas and ensure they were implementing all of the services provided,” he said. “We would also conduct a cash transfer where we would give real money to the people who are in need.”
Lodiong’s main duty was to fly out at least once a week to the rural areas and interview the beneficiaries of the services Save the Children provided.
“I would present my finding to the project director who would in turn apply them to the project proposals such as funding,” he said. “My joy comes when the people in need received supply after I present reports to the director and projects are approved and funded.”
Lodiong worked with Save the Children until March 2011, when he decided to move to the U.S.