FIRST impressions are a gentle man with a soft voice and deep faith. Yai Atem is a Dinka man from South Sudan and his personal history is one far from the peace that seems to emanate from him.
Yai was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, and one of the survivors.
He is visiting Inverell at the moment to share his story, documented in his book, Under a Sudanese Star.
All proceeds from the book are going directly to aid South Sudanese people in desperate need of supplies and medical necessities to live healthy, disease free lives.
The Lost Boys are a legacy of the Second Sudanese Civil War when nearly three million people were killed and an estimated four million were displaced.
Torn from family and country during the Second Sudanese Civil War, Yai was one of thousands of children who fled for their lives to the bush to find refuge when their villages were attacked.
That journey covered up to a thousand miles and many years with half of the children becoming victims of starvation, killed by animals or enemy troops, dehydration and disease.
They sought asylum in refugee camps with uncertain futures, affected by mechanisms of conflict within Sudan and Ethiopia. Yai eventually found stability in a camp in Kenya.
Though the book recounts a desperate life most people might not fathom, Yai intended the book to deliver a message of optimism and an appreciation of life.
“The message that I want people to have is determination, hope, helping one another and care for humanity.”
Yai said it was faith that gave him the strength to live from day to day over the years of running for survival.
“God was the one giving me that hope, telling me “Don’t give up; keep hoping there will be a better future for you later.”
“And that better future I have received today, and my kids are in a good hospital when they are sick, there is a good school, there is a good healthy environment.”
He hoped by writing his book, it might help the people of South Sudan who are enduring incredible hardship as conflict has struck again, tearing up the newborn nation.
Yai was empathetic about the current situation.
“It’s not new to me. (It’s) something that I went through before.
“And that’s why I feel concerned about calling for a friend around Australia, and America, and the entire world so that we can do something about them.
“I don’t want them to suffer like me before, in the past. It was too long for me, but I don’t want it to be too long on them.”
All book proceeds are going toward those South Sudanese vulnerable to malaria, dysentery and diarrhea. There are generations of those unvaccinated for hepatitis. Yai is determined to give them aid.
“The good hearted people and the people who care for humanity would have to step up to help those people so that they can get mosquito net, anti-malaria, anti-diarrhea, and hepatitis vaccination.
“It’s really needed now.”
He hopes after the resolution of conflict in South Sudan, the funds generated by the book will go toward building a new hospital.
Yai feels his survival against the odds has come with a purpose: to do what he can to give aid, raise awareness, generate help and work for justice.
“I can be a voice, of those who are (not) here. I can be a messenger for them, I should not keep quiet when I’ve seen ones in the past.”
Yai now lives in Coffs Harbour with his wife and three children. He has a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice and Political Science from Arizona State University, Yai is now working on a law degree at Griffith University. He hopes to help those who cannot help themselves.
Though a great injustice stole everything from so many South Sudanese, Yai seemed to view the tragic history he endured with a quiet grace.
“So, in that sense, the past is the past. We cannot do anything about it and we will not repay anything,” Yai said.
“The real thing about what happened in the past is forgiving one another. Whoever did it to us have to be forgiven.
“Let’s open a new page by caring for one another for a better future for the people, because we, or I, feel concerned that without people who were caring about me in United Nations, in western countries, I would not be America or Australia today.
“And what I have seen here is (that) people love one another, and that is development that we have missed.
“If there was a development like this in my home country, there would have been no loss of 2.5 million people,” he said.
“I feel this history (of compassion) has to go back to the people who really in need of it, and I left them behind.”
All purchases will receive a receipt for tax deductions.
You can also learn more about Yai on his web site, www.yaiatem.com, or visit his Facebook page: Yai Atem - Under A Sudanese Star.