Several weeks ago, the Doubletree Hotel near Stapleton was the scene of a lot of dancing and singing. Black voices soared and pierced the clouds, ululating like only African women can. I was there to help celebrate the Sudanese peace accord signed Jan. 9 in Naivasha, Kenya, between the Arab North and the mostly Christian South Sudanese.
It was a milestone, marking the passage of more than four decades of fighting. Talking to many of the celebrant refugees, I was impressed that they wished for so little from us in America. They were thankful to the United States for applying pressure on the Sudanese government, and to Coloradans for giving them a home here.
I was reminded that in our midst, we also have Somali Bantus, Ethiopian and other African refugees who have nowhere to go back to, or no desire to return to where they came from. Unlike them, the Sudanese I met at the Doubletree have homes, plots of land they wish to return to. Many have families and spouses there.
"America is a good country, but it's not home," one said. Unlike me, they haven't resided here long enough to succumb to America's seduction.
Church groups (including Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopalian and others) will be essential in the totally devastated land. As a result of the longest racial, religious and political war ever fought on continental Africa - the war essentially lasted from 1956 to 1972 and then again from 1983 to 2004 - more than 2.5 million people have died and 4 million people were displaced. We're dealing with a country left uninhabitable and devastated by Arab firepower and bombs.
The Sudanese I spoke to were undaunted and enthusiastic about rebuilding their country. Since one of the accord's provisions is for a plebiscite in six years, my sense is most will decide to cut all ties with the northerners.
Those I talked to were quick to point out that their needs are many. They include education, health care, reconstruction of the infrastructure, repair of lines of communication, and transportation. In truth, the south needs rebuilding from the ground up. Much will be asked from America and the West.
We in Colorado don't of course have to go to the Sudan. We can engage the Sudanese right here, in our own towns, with the objective of preparing them for their return to their homeland. We can befriend them, get to know them. And from knowing what their needs are, we can become more engaged in the struggles of their country's future.
In an attempt to get involved, I've contacted medical institutions and facilities here to encourage them to train black Sudanese surgeons, physicians and assistants for tomorrow's south Sudan. It's an effort I'd like to encourage more Coloradans to get involved in. Our efforts should include the training of future teachers, nurses, social workers, veterinarians, etc.
Churches involved in the Sudan have tended to be white. Still, I believe the black church has a role to play, because of its moral authority. Since many black Sudanese were enslaved by the Arab northerners, African-Americans can play a special healing role since they, more than anyone, have a special understanding of what slavery means. I'd like to see a closer involvement of the black church with the local Sudanese community. Let's help with educating them in the running of a civil society through training in business management, auto repair, etc.
I was happy to be part of the celebrations. This will hopefully be the end of the dying in the south - even as the killing continues unabated in Darfur. But, then, that's another tale.
Pius Kamau of Aurora is a thoracic and general surgeon. He was born and raised in Kenya and immigrated to the U.S. in 1971. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.