`Journey’ fund-raiser aids Sudanese refugees
By Fabvienen Taylor
JACKSON — Once again “The Lost Boys and Girls” of Sudan are off on a journey, only this time it is one of their own choosing.
On Thursday, April 28, about 44 of the original group of Sudanese refugees brought to Jackson in 2000 by Catholic Charities, will help host a fund-raiser — the “Journey” — sponsored by Sudan Reconstruction in the home of Julie Hines, former first lady of Mississippi now divorced from ex-Gov. Ray Mabus.
Hines and a group of the Sudenese refugees formed the non-profit foundation to assist them with college and emergency costs and for mission trips to help rebuild Southern Sudan.
“All of the kids are in college and working fulltime,” said Mangok Mayen, an older refugee hired by Catholic Charities’ Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program in 2000 to work with the 72 refugee youth. “They have no family here.”
Hines described Mayen as the boys’ and girls’ “brother, father, mother, uncle and cousin.” He has helped them, guided them in every way possible, she said.
The fund-raiser is an art auction which will be held in Hines’ home. For more information call 601-214-8384.
About 30 Mississippi artists – Wyatt Waters, BeBe Wolfe, Ellen Langford, Andrew Bucci and others — are creating original works of art, many with African themes, for the auction, according to Hines.
Advance bidding for the art works is available online at Brown’s Fine Art and Framing, www.brownsfineart.com. Joel Brown, owner, heads the art auction committee for the fund-raiser.
Linda Raff, Catholic Charities executive director, serves on the planning committee. “We are certainly supportive of the fund-raiser because we know the students need extra funding to complete college and we aren’t able to provide that at this point.
“So it is great to have a larger community interested in them, committed to them and willing to put all of this effort into fund-raising,” said Raff.
Hines met the Sudanese refugees in 2001 at her church, St. Andrew’s Cathedral.
Most of the refugees were Episcopalian and St. Andrews’ established a Sudanese Ministry at the church to welcome and assist them in resettling in Jackson.
“Julie immediately had a growing attachment and involvement with them,” said Raff. “And because of her contacts in the community, she was able to get them jobs, tutorial help, as well as help in making decisions about college, securing transportation and applying for scholarships.”
“The whole episcopal community has been outstanding in relation to the children,” said Raff.
Hines describes her involvement as “just a calling.”
“I was on a journey of my own back then,” said Hines, who had lost custody of her two daughters.
“They filled a great emotional void for me. You don’t ever know when, in your life, your resources, your contacts can come into play and do something for the greater good.
“I was in a position where I could call on all the political and governmental contacts, both federal and state, I had made over the years. And it was all very clear what I was supposed to do,” she said.
Over the years, Hines has continued to work with Catholic Charities in assisting the refugees.
“The Catholic Church’s mission of resettling refugees from around the world, its willingness to be their protector, humbles me,” she said.
Hines said everyone, every business, every organization she has asked to help with the fund-raiser has answered with a “yes.”
“One thing this fund-raiser will do is introduce these kids to people in Jackson who are driven by humanitarian causes and maybe have economic interests in helping them to help rebuild Southern Sudan,” she said.
Since 2005, Sudan has struggled with an uneasy peace, said Mayen, who returned to his country for the first time since 1995 last Christmas to visit his family.
“I am not sure any of us will go back there to live because the situation is not really stabilized yet,” he said.
Several of the boys will return to the Southern Sudan this summer with Hines. “They want to visit their families and then return to finish their educations. They don’t want to just live here and forget about Sudan,” he said.
John Ayom, 22, has already scheduled his trip home this summer. During his summer break from Hinds Community College, he will take off from his job at Wolfe’s Art Studio, where he is hard at work on molding and finishing clay zebras and water buffalo to be sold at the fund-raiser.
“It is a family business there,” he said. “Bebe is a nice lady and treats me just like family.”
“I am just so homesick,” said Ayom, who arrived here when he was 15. He longs to see his mother and 7-year-old brother who have returned to their home town of Bor.
His family and other townspeople were driven out by Islamic government soldiers in the 1990s. “I didn’t know where my family was for years,” Ayom said.
He said Bor sits on the Nile River and is “green all the time. There are mahogany trees and other trees with thorns and some fruit trees. One thing I always liked about the forest there is you could always find food, fruit.”
Ayom’s favorite food is lasagna, and he likes country music, especially John Blunt.
On any given day Ayom and several other Sudanese can be found at Hines’ house, eating, talking, helping out in any way they can.
“When we come here it is just like family,” Ayom said. “Miss Julie is just a great person. She is just an adorable mom for all of us.
“Sometimes when you get, let’s say, ‘stuck in the mud’ at 12 or 1 a.m. and you call her, she just picks up the telephone and says, ‘Honey, what do you need? Are you okay? Is everyone okay? ‘She does not hesitate. She is just a great mom to everyone,” said Ayom.
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