South Sudan Unite Conference Minneapolis July 2019
SOUTH SUDAN UNITE BACKGROUND
South Sudan Unite was started by Luol Deng and his family to unite South Sudanese in the diaspora and at home through a community conference doing activities such as basketball, mentorship, panel discussions, workshops, fashion show and arts. Luol Deng and his sister Chire Deng shared that when they first started hosting the yearly conference in 2015, attendance was low at just 50 individuals. They persisted with reaching out to members of the Sudanese community, involving prominent artists and professionals and hosting it in different cities. Now in its 5th year, the conference has evolved to something bigger than they can imagine. They have partnered with companies that believe in the vision of South Sudan Unite and sponsor the conference and work of the Luol Deng Foundation within South Sudan. Alight and Matter are major sponsors of the South Sudan Unite Conference.
South Sudan Unite Conference: July 19 – 22, 2019, Minneapolis, Minnesota
I had the privilege to participate in the 2019 conference that was held in three different venues in Minneapolis.
For me, South Sudan Unite means community. It means networking with forward and like minded professionals who are working at being the best they can be, while having a shared background of being refugees. It is a safe space, a home away from home, where one could let their guard down and just be. In a country where we, are immigrants, a feeling immigrants only know; where your skin color and your voice marks your “otherness,” and we long for our home experience. It means seeing a mini-utopian state of unity among South Sudanese, as we shed tribal labels and connect on shared goals, mentorship and friendship. It means healing from trauma that spans generations of a people afflicted by war. It means hope.
DAY 1 RECAP
RISE: (Role models inspire strength and Empowerment) Panel and Workshops:
A day of learning from professionals in different fields who shared their career journey and discussed about their experiences. There were 6 panelists. I was blessed to be among the panelists where I talked about my journey to become a physician, my lessons along the way and advice for other youth. Bandak Lul, a sex trafficing expert, talked about the challenges of gaining trust from his patients, who, due to the negative narrative of the image of a pimp as a black man, where often suspicious of his honest efforts. Athieei Lam, a real estate agent advised us on the benefits of home ownership. Akeem Akway, official barber for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Vikings, shared his story of how he overcome negativity, hardships of being an immigrant, and focused on his talent to build a barber business from the bottom. James Thuch is an Entrepreneur based in Toronto, Canada. He is the CEO of Rainmaker Enterprise, a company that implements solar powered water infrastructure to build healthy peaceful communities in South Sudan. Adut Bulgak, the first WNBA player from South Sudan shared her story of the hours and hours of practice to make it to the Women’s NBA. She is currently playing internationally in Isreal.
Focus on Mental Health
Day 1 concluded with a mental health panel and workshop. Nyamuon Machar, a mental health expert, shared a documentary about a young man, who suffered from a mental health illness, showing the background of mental health in his entire family and how he receives treatment. This opened a discussion of mental health illnesses in our community. In a country affected by the trauma of war, most, if not all South Sudanese adults are affected by mental health and are struggling silently. The breakout sessions gave participants in the conference a chance to discuss their experiences and learn from each other.
Thokriel Manyiel Ayuel, a licensed social worker specializing in mental health, shared a heartbreaking event of her nephew who committed suicide. As a physician, I share in Thokriel’s goal to remove the stigma of mental health illness. She encouraged people to speak freely and seek professional help, as healing from mental health, similarly to healing from cancer, is possible.