Monday, March 29, 2010

BBC on Sudanese "Cuban-Jubans"

Can the 'Cuban-Jubans' rebuild South Sudan?

By Lucy Fleming
BBC News, Juba

With Cuban pork roast on the menu, Salsa classes on a Thursday and animated Spanish competing with the Latin beat, De Havana club in the South Sudanese capital Juba feels as though it is on the wrong continent.

“ I think Cuba is unique; they believe in what you are - not where you belong or which religion you practise or the colour of your skin ”
Dr Okony Simon Mori

It is here that a group of former Sudanese exiles, known as the "Cuban-Jubans", gather most nights to share a bottle of whisky and put the world to rights - in Spanish.

Among them are doctors, pharmacists, accountants, engineers and economists.

All were educated in Cuba during Sudan's 21-year civil war and are now regarded as the intellectual elite of the south - one of the world's poorest and least developed regions.

"In Juba we have more than 100 Cuban graduates from different fields, all part of the 600-plus students sent to Cuba for education," says 38-year-old Dr Okony Simon Mori.

He returned to work at Juba's Teaching Hospital in 2007, two years after a peace deal ended the conflict in which some 1.5 million people died.

'Pencils for Kalashnikovs'

He was just 13 when chosen by the newly launched southern rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), to go to Cuba.

"Our late hero [SPLM leader] Dr John Garang told us: 'Now the elder people will take the AK-47 and you guys will take the pencil and the pencil will be your Kalashnikov,'" he recalls.

Dr Okony left his family in 1985 at one of the refugee camps in Ethiopia where thousands of Sudanese had fled the fighting between the army of the Muslim-dominated north and Arab militia on the one side and the SPLM on the other.

He travelled to Cuba aboard a Russian ship and did not see his mother and father again for 18 years - and it was not until he graduated and moved to Canada a decade later that he had any direct contact with them.

"We stayed in a boarding school in a small island called Isla de la Juventud [Island of Youth]. There were 25,000 students from different countries - most of them from Africa and Latin America," Dr Okony says.

"I think Cuba is unique and is a very special place; they believe in what you are - not where you belong or which religion you practise or the colour of your skin.

"The only thing they care about is your well-being and your aptitude. Really, they treated us as their own children."


Read the entire story HERE.

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