In Portland, South Sudanese pray for peace

Joyce Augustino, 15, (right) and Lucy Otto, 16, dress in the American and South Sundanese flags at a peace rally in Monument Square in Portland on Friday afternoon. Fighting erupted this month in the South Sudanese capital Juba between followers of President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Joyce Augustino, 15, (right) and Lucy Otto, 16, dress in the American and South Sundanese flags at a peace rally in Monument Square in Portland on Friday afternoon. Fighting erupted this month in the South Sudanese capital Juba between followers of President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

By Jake Bleiberg, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — On July 7, the same day the shooting in his home country re-started, Kwanny Malwal received good news.

A cousin in Australia had spoken to someone in South Sudan who said that Malwal’s mother was still alive. It was the first he’d heard of her in nearly three years, since the world’s newest country broke into civil war in 2013.

“That put a smile on my face,” said Malwal.

Like some 3.2 million other Sudanese refugees, Malwal left his home to escape civil war, famine and genocide. In 2002, he fled to Egypt. One year later he was granted asylum by the United States government and came to Maine.

Kwanny Malwal speaks to reporters in Portland’s Monument Square on Friday afternoon during a rally calling for Peace in South Sudan. Malwal fled his home, escaping civil war, famine and genocide in 2002. One year later, he was granted asylum by the United States government and came to Maine. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Kwanny Malwal speaks to reporters in Portland’s Monument Square on Friday afternoon during a rally calling for Peace in South Sudan. Malwal fled his home, escaping civil war, famine and genocide in 2002. One year later, he was granted asylum by the United States government and came to Maine. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Since then he’s worked to make a life here. He mastered English and forged a career as an linguist with the U.S. military, which saw him deployed to Iraq.

But on Friday, July 22, when Malwal stood among a group of young women holding a rally in Portland’s Monument Square to draw attention to the war that is again raging in South Sudan, he was not smiling and could not be sure that was mother was safe.

The cell phone towers in the part of the country where she lives were destroyed by government forces at the start of the civil war, Malwal told BDN Portland. And he does not trust the information released by the government.

Malwal would like to see the international community intervene to restore peace in his war-ravaged home, but he’s not optimistic that it will come soon.

“I can acknowledge that things aren’t going to get better anytime soon,” he said.

But even raked by uncertainty about his loved ones and the future of his country, Malwal has been able to find comfort and a new home in Portland’s South Sudanese community.

“I came here alone, but they’ve become my family,” he said gesturing to the line of woman holding signs with prayers for peace.

Yobilea Wakati, 16, (left) and Jennifer Sebit, 15, rally with a group of young women in Portland’s Monument Square on Friday calling for peace in South Sudan. Violence in South Sudan, which has killed hundreds of people, broke out as the world's newest nation prepared to mark five years of independence from Sudan on July 9. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Yobilea Wakati, 16, (left) and Jennifer Sebit, 15, rally with a group of young women in Portland’s Monument Square on Friday calling for peace in South Sudan. Violence in South Sudan, which has killed hundreds of people, broke out as the world’s newest nation prepared to mark five years of independence from Sudan on July 9. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

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Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.