ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Emmanuel Sebit discusses his life prior to arriving in America.
BY DILLON DURST
LYNN — Emmanuel Sebit isn’t fond of New England weather.
But a winter storm is nothing compared to the hardships he faced as a Kenyan refugee.
Sebit, 24, received his GED last year through Catholic Charities North, an agency of the Archdiocese of Boston. The charity offers nearly 90 programs, including child care, refugee services and education.
Prior to his arrival in the U.S. in 2012, Sebit spent 11 years in a refugee camp. He, his mother and two younger sisters fled war-torn South Sudan when he was 9. Sebit said he was lucky to avoid abduction by South Sudan rebel forces, and noted that boys ages 11 and up are often taken from their families and forced into combat.
The Second Sudanese Civil War, which ended in 2005, resulted in the death of 2 million people. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army, a guerilla unit founded at the beginning of the war in 1983, eventually gained its independence from the central Sudanese government.
His mother, Susan, faced many hardships during their time in South Sudan.
“My mom has faced a lot of stuff,” he said. “She’s never told me what happened to her.”
While fleeing to Kenya, he and his family, along with a handful of others, only traveled at night to avoid the rebels. They couldn’t use roads, so they were forced to navigate the jungle. Sebit said he slept in trees during the day because of tigers and other jungle predators who roamed at night.
Since Sebit’s grandfather left South Sudan to fight for the Sudanese Armed Forces in the North, the United Nations considered his family at higher risk.
“Because of our grandfather, they thought we had become like an enemy to the south,” he said. “They saw us as traitors.”
The camp essentially stripped him of his identity, he said.
“You’re given a card and it doesn’t say your name or where you’re from,” he said. “It just says ‘refugee.’”
Sebit touched down at Logan Airport in 2012. He was introduced to Catholic Charities through the International Institute of Boston, which helps refugees and immigrants.
Sebit enrolled at North Shore Community College last fall and majors in criminal justice. He plans to pursue his bachelor’s degree afterward.
“I might be poor, but I don’t have to be poor in my brain,” he said.
Dillon Durst can be reached at [email protected]