Peter Nhiany was born in 1980 in a small village called Tong in South Sudan. He is Dinka by tribe from the upper Nile region of Jongley. Peter fled his homeland when only nine years old, leaving parents, brothers and sisters in their province that was devastated by war and genocide.
Peter’s town was repeatedly attacked by northern insurgents over a period of years. News reports refer to the conflict as a civil war, but that doesn’t do justice to the 2 million South Sudanese killed over several decades. Many Sudanese, including children, were shot to death or captured. These prolonged attacks on the Dinka people resulted in parents and children fleeing for their lives, often dispersing separately. Fleeing in desperation and fear, Peter joined with other children to escape the unceasing attacks on Sudanese Christians.
Many of the children made their way to Ethiopia and some to other neighboring countries such as Uganda and Kenya in East Africa where they gathered in refugee camps. Life in these camps was not easy due to food scarcity and endemic disease. Many children perished in these camps in spite of the best efforts of humanitarian relief workers. Nine year old Peter would live in these refugee camps apart from family for the next 12 years. His mother, sister and two cousins in South Sudan were killed during this period when their village was bombed from the air.
In August 2001, through the now-famous Lost Boys rescue and resettlement program, Peter was one of the 3800 fortunate ones chosen to be allowed to immigrate to safety in the United States. He eventually settled in the Manchester, NH area where some 600 – 800 other Sudanese reside. Peter has worked as residential counselor at a rehabilitation center helping people with development disabilities. Currently, he is a full-time Residential Instructor with Easter Seals while also pursuing a degree in social and behavioral sciences at a local college. Peter Nhiany became a proud U.S. citizen in 2007.
In 2006 Peter and I co-founded Life for Sudan, a charitable non-profit designed to assist both Sudanese refugees in New England, and to help with the rebuilding of primary schools in South Sudan. Peter serves as our Vice President and has two over-riding passions in life: education as the pathway to achievement and the helping of others. I’ve never seen Peter down and in a pessimistic mood. Concerned, worried of course; but he never ever loses his optimistic outlook. He never wallows in self pity. Never.
Right now Peter is back in Sudan visiting family, including his wife and daughter who have not yet been able to join him in the U.S. (another hardship that is hard for me to fathom). Peter is also there to vote in the South Sudan referendum. Forged from the 2005 Peace Accord that brought an end to the active conflict, the agreement called for a referendum to be held in January 2011 to determine if South Sudan would stay linked to the government in the north, or would form an independent state. Not surprising, the sentiment expressed by most South Sudanese is for independence.
So I think I found my New Years’ resolution. In spite of any troubles that come my way in 2011, or the carry-overs from 2010 for that matter, I’m trying to learn from, and model myself after, my friend Peter.
If anyone would like to help out Life for Sudan with a donation, we will put it to good use. We have no salaried staff, it’s all volunteer. So nearly 100% of donations we take in go out as assistance for Sudanese. Contact us at http://www.lifeforsudan.org/ or you can make a donation on-line with a credit card through the secure site of Network for Good http://www.networkforgood.org/ . Just search for Life for Sudan on their site.