My name is Ageth Okeny, also known as Lucia. I was born in Sudan, where I grew up with seven siblings and two parents who worked hard to keep food on the table. When I was 14 years old I was married off; the five greatest things that came from the marriage were my children. I worked hard to provide for them, but the strength of the Civil War was far too great. It was a war between Muslims in the North and Christians in the South. It was hard to say goodbye to my homeland, but I had no choice. The civil war took a child from me, I wasn’t going to wait around for another to be taken. So I packed up my kids, and started walking towards freedom.
Our first stop to freedom was Egypt. I was informed of an immigration office located in the capital, that could help me with me get my family somewhere safe. Getting to the office was the easiest part. Keeping up with the paperwork and interviews while working to keep food on the table and a roof over my kids heads was the challenge. It took 11 months, but we finally got our application approved. We were given Refugee status to the United States of America. We arrived in October of 2000.
Coming to America was a challenge. I had no knowledge of the language or its customs. I was a single mom with no education or professional work experience. After many years of bouncing from jobs and homes, we got our answer. With the help of friends from our church, I was able to get a stable job and network of supporters. “The American Dream,” was on the tip of my fingers. The path to America was hard, but it taught my children and I to never give up. With my struggle, I was able to provide for their education and freedom.
Once my kids were older, I made a promise to send aid to those who didn’t make it out of Sudan. The first step was spreading the word. I reached out to friends, community members, and state representatives, and told my story and mission. Step two was funding. I began to host fundraising events to collect donations such as clothes and money. Step three came a year later: the time to present the aid to the survivors. We bought food and containers for all the supplies donated.
When I arrived in Sudan, 17 years later, it was a completely new country. Since we left, Sudan had split in two. In 2011, the country became, Sudan and South Sudan. This gave the countries relief. This peace lasted two years for the South. Once South Sudan got their religious freedom, a struggle for power broke out. In 2013 many leaders wished to lead the new country with violence. This lead to more killings and rapes. People fled their homes. Many sought asylum in Sudan, Egypt, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. They left everything, having only the clothes on their backs.
I realized that the funds I raised wasn’t enough for the survivors of the second Civil War. I created a foundation called Southern Sudan Hope. The mission of this foundation is to build schools, provide medical care, and support the displaced refugees of South Sudan.