Written by Kyra Cooper with RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps
In 1985, Garang Majouk began a long journey that started with fleeing present-day South Sudan and ended at the gates of the Des Moines International Airport. Accompanied by his wife and child, Garang had to quickly make a life for himself in a foreign world. The numerous difficulties and hard-won adjustment that Garang encountered as a refugee in the United States has now motivated him to help educate others.
Garang Majouk left South Sudan for northern Sudan because of the danger caused by the Second Sudanese Civil War. This journey was the first of many that Garang would take in search of safety, education, and stability. In 1993, Garang crossed the Nile River to escape North Sudan for Egypt, then traveled from Egypt to Syria, and eventually journeyed from Syria to Lebanon. In Lebanon as a refugee and a student, Garang found employment as a dishwasher for a hotel, which allowed him to simultaneously complete classes.
In 1997, Garang applied for a visa to come to the United States as a refugee. After waiting a few years for his application to process, Garang was admitted to the United States and arrived in Iowa in April of 2000. Determined to make a stable life for him and his family, Garang found employment in the construction industry three weeks after receiving his Social Security information.
However, while Garang settled into his life in Des Moines, the political issues in South Sudan continued. In 2005, the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement signified the close of the Second Sudanese Civil War. This agreement established a timeline for a referendum on South Sudanese independence. Garang left Des Moines in 2009 to head back to South Sudan to register individuals to vote and discuss the importance of South Sudanese independence. The vote for the independence of South Sudan took place in early 2011, with nearly 99% of registered individuals voting pro-independence.
A successful campaign under his belt, Garang left the newly-established South Sudan in 2011 and returned to Des Moines. He pursued achieving higher education and obtained an Associate in General Studies degree from DMACC. Garang went on to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Emergency Disaster Management from Upper Iowa University.
After receiving his education, Garang searched for positions in the Des Moines metro that would help refugee communities. Since 2017, Garang has been working with AmeriCorps RefugeeRISE. Due to his proficiency in Arabic, English, and Dinka, Garang was an essential resource for helping to teach ESL and citizenship classes for RefugeeRISE. In ESL classes, Garang would help a trained teacher communicate with 10 to 15 students by translating any needed information to the students. When the class divided into sections, Garang would read passages with a small group to increase comprehension abilities. For the citizenship courses, Garang worked one-on-one with four students over information they would need to pass the citizenship exam. Before he transitioned to his next RefugeeRISE position, Garang was able to see three of his four students attain citizenship.
Now, Garang has been working with Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center (EMBARC) to lead learning circles that inform refugees about American healthcare practices. At learning circles, Garang sits in the living room of a hosting refugee family and talks to an intimate group of the refugee’s family and friends about healthcare in America. Learning circles create a dialogue to discuss the importance of getting a flu shot, the need for going to the doctor for a check-up, and the necessity of having medical insurance. Garang enjoys helping individuals who were previously held back by their lack of English abilities better integrate into society.
Garang has learned many skills from his AmeriCorps time. Along with practical takeaways, like how to teach classes and how to complete paperwork, Garang has learned a way to help others and effectively donate his time. It has allowed him to connect to the refugee community and help provide other refugees with training to integrate them into American society. Garang thinks that AmeriCorps service is useful for building experience for a career. Working in a factory, like many refugees do, is a static with few opportunities to develop. AmeriCorps has allowed Garang to try many different areas and develop skills for the future.
In contemplating his life after his AmeriCorps service, Garang is considering moving back to South Sudan to help humanitarian causes in the area. Eighteen years after his arrival in the United States, Garang is still connected to South Sudan. His father, brothers, and sisters still live there. While South Sudan is improving, Garang states that the country needs people to go and work on it. Specifically, Garang hopes to inform those perpetuating the violence in his country know that “we don’t need that.”
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