South Sudanese refugee thrives in Lincoln
Story, aggregated content and video by Cahner Olson, NewsNetNebraska
On February 18th, 2006, Jacob Manyang arrived in the United States for the first time. He landed at Eppley Airfield in Omaha, alone and unsure how the future would play out.
Members of Lutheran Family Services (LFS) greeted him at the airport and brought him to his first apartment, a two-bedroom he would share with his brothers when they arrived two months later.
Surviving in South Sudan
Manyang was born in the newly established country of South Sudan. From the time he was 4-years-old, him and his family walked to over 10 towns in eastern Africa to escape the violent civil war raging through their country. In 1997 Manyang finally settled in the Dimma Refugee Camp in Ethiopia, where he would live for the next eight years.
In 2005, a resettlement agency informed Manyang and his family that they had the opportunity to resettle in the United States. After a year’s worth of paperwork, medical checks, and interviews, he finally landed at Eppley Airfield.
“When I first came, I really didn’t know what to expect. But people were very generous and had organized everything for us,” says Manyang. “It was winter, and when I got off the plane and saw all the leaves missing from the trees I thought to myself “What, was there a fire here or something?” It was hard to keep up with what was going on.”
The big picture
Jacob’s story is not uncommon. In the past year, the United States accepted 53,000 refugees. President Trump recently announced his plan to accept 45,000 refugees in the coming fiscal year, the lowest number in 30 years. To compare, the United States accepted a total of 85,000 refugees in 2016 according to a Pew Research Center analysis.
In 2016, Nebraska accepted 1,441 refugees, making it the highest refugee resettlement state per capita. North Dakota came in second, followed by Idaho, Vermont and Arizona. California, Texas and New York took in the most refugees overall.
When many of these refugees arrive in America, they face an entirely new set of challenges as they adjust to the American life, language and culture.
Three refugee resettlement agencies exist in Nebraska: Lutheran Family Services, Refugee Empowerment Center of Omaha, and Catholic Social Services. These agencies organize an apartment for refugees upon arrival, shop for them, and provide English classes and general mentoring.
Due to the Trump administration’s decrease in refugee numbers, the number of refugees in Nebraska has steadily declined.
“It’s as bad as it can get,” says Jaleel Oladipo, LFS reception and placement manager.
A new life in Omaha
Although he was free from the refugee camps in Central Africa, Manyang now faced a whole new set of struggles.
Workers at LFS picked Manyang up from the airport upon arrival and took him to his new apartment. He was given a tour, taught how to do basic things, and then told not to leave the apartment or open the door for anyone. If he needed assistance, he was to call his LFS case worker.
Nevertheless, on his second day, he left his apartment with a group of Sudanese people he met outside. Later that day, he couldn’t remember how to get home. He found a processed chicken in his fridge, but had no idea what to do with it. One night he forgot how to turn the TV on, so he sat in his living room in silence. Things like turning on lights, heating the oven, and flushing the toilet had to be taught to him.
Giving back to South Sudan
Now after almost twelve years living in Nebraska, Manyang is thriving in his new life while trying to give back to his home country. In 2013 he started a student organization at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln called Save South Sudanese Orphans and Widows (SSSOW). Their most recent fundraisers have helped supply a school for adults in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, as well as distribute 500 mosquito nets in Bor, South Sudan, according to Ethan Johnson, President of SSSOW.
Despite their name, the group raises money for all kinds of people in eastern Africa.
Weekly pizza sales in Nebraska Hall account for the majority of their fundraising money.
Manyang hopes to also give aid to people in Ethiopia and Kenya in the future.
“We play a very small part, since we decided to take on an entire region of one of the largest continents,” says Johnson. “We just want to do what we can and help who we can.”