Story Publication logo July 2, 2007



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Gabriel Deng, Koor Garang and Garang Mayuol, Southern Sudanese "Lost Boys" in the U.S., were forced...

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Multiple Authors

By Jen Marlowe, for the Pulitzer Center

Achol (not her real name) tried to discreetly wipe her tears away as she stared at the lcd screen on my video camera. As the tears kept flowing, however, it became impossible for her to hide them. We were sitting in a mud hut with iron sheeting roof, typical of the housing in Kakuma camp. Achol was watching a message from her son, Ajak. Ajak hadn't seen his mother for twenty years, he told me, since he fled Sudan as a young boy. He learned that she arrived in Kakuma camp only after he left, in 2001, to resettle in Tucson, AZ, where I met him at Koor's house before leaving on the trip.

I had taped messages that morning in Tucson from several young men, in a group together. But afterwards, Ajak asked if we could go outside and he could tape a private message for his mother. I didn't understand what he was saying as I recorded--he was speaking in Dinka--but the intensity and the emotions evident in his face and voice needed no translation.

It's not the first time I've used video as a tool of communication across boundaries, but each time I do, its' power is reinforced. I can remember the first time I showed video-taped messages to a group of Palestininian teenagers--messages from their Israeli counterparts in a coexistence program where I was working. It was one year into the Intifada, and the Israelis and Palestinians had not been able to meet face to face since the beginning of the Intifada. Many of the Palestinian participants in the program did not want to have anything to do with their Israeli colleagues even if they could have met--they were too angry, too hurt by the events of the past eighteen months. But their pain took the form of political rhetoric, as anger and pain from political violence and oppression often does. When the video messages were shown, however, something changed. The discussion after the video was hours-long--about what they had been living through, about whether or not it was right or wrong to maintain relationships or contacts with Israelis. But rather than the discourse being stuck in the realm of political rhetoric, it had shifted into something more human.

In Darfur, my colleagues Adam, Aisha and I filmed messages from rebel fighters in the North Darfur, where we filming, and delivered them to family members in a refugee camp in Chad once we had crossed back into Chad. Especially poignant was one fighter's elderly mother, reaching out to stroke the small screen that contained the image of her son and murmuring, "how did he get in there?"

Each time I witness these video interactions, witness the transformation that humans experience when other humans that they know, care for, and have been separated from are brought into the space with them, I feel both gratitude that I could use my equipment towards that end and amazement at the raw power contained in human connection and contact.

We filmed over seventy hours of footage in Sudan and Kakuma. My hope can only be that, in addition to the ability to bring moments of connection and joy and communication between individuals, what we have documented will contribute to the conditions that will allow separated families to be reunited so that video messages will no longer be necessary. That will allow mothers to have children without wondering, as the mother of the little girl we met in Akon who was bitten by a snake did, whether they are destined to have children only to feed them to the earth. That will allow parents to raise boys without having to give them up to be rebel fighters. That somehow we can contribute to a Sudan where families and communities can build lives together, build hope together, and plan for a future together.


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