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It Could Have Been Me: Kuoth Wiel Shares Journey From Sudan to the US

A young Sudanese girl named Kuoth Wiel came to the United States with her family at eight years old. She had to overcome many obstacles when she first arrived to the US, the biggest being the language barrier — she translated for her family while learning to adjust in many different situations.

Now, this young Sudanese woman is living in Los Angeles as a model and actress earning every dime she has made on her own. Here’s the compelling story of how Kuoth made it out of violence and is fighting for women in South Sudan to be able to do the same.

The backstory: Many citizens from South Sudan have been displaced and lack the daily necessities such as food and clean water. More than 450,000 people have fled violence in Darfur since the beginning of 2014, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Innocent people are fleeing and terrified for their lives. Attacks on civilians and civilian property, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and restrictions of freedom of expression are key issues over in South Sudan.

Kuoth was fortunate enough to have fled, she begins by explaining, “I often had to hear things at my age that I wasn’t ready for. Those experiences have strengthened and helped me develop into who I am today.” Kuoth remembers her most significant memories from her childhood as incredibly life-shaping and influential to her character today, she mentions, “living in an unstable environment forces one to erase painful memories, in order to find a way to move on. I did not feel that my childhood was unusual I just thought that was the way everyone else had lived.” She remembered there was limited peace in Sudan and never stayed in one place for more than a year.  Kuoth has been a role model for many young girls and women all over the world. She has created the NyaEden Foundation. NyaEden is made up of members who have been affected by war. The foundation has a domestic program which works to offer empowerment and leaderships workshops and retreats for girls and young women as well as a mentoring and internship program. The international program supplies girls and women of war with safety and hygiene kits. These kits will include solar power rechargeable flashlights, which can mean the difference between life and death in a war zone or refugee camp. 

“We want to empower women and girls who have suffered as a result of war, so they can have a sense of independence and learn to embrace themselves in taking a holistic approach by easing the mind, body, and spirit because it isn’t easy being a girl/women living in war,” contends Kuoth. 

The biggest challenge Kuoth faces while trying to help Sudanese women is the lack of efforts in their society. NyaEden Foundation’s also teaches the young girls about menstruation and reproductive health, since most of them receive little education on the subject. Very often women and girls issues in South Sudan are not addressed due to the fact that they are marginalized in their society. It is important that women worldwide be aware about what is happening in the area, specifically with regard to abuse towards women. Kuoth mentions, “We have to stand up for each other. Today there are 276,000 South Sudanese refuges and asylum seekers in Ethiopia. Today there are more displaced people in the world then there was in WW1. The average time that someone spends in a refugee camp is seventeen years. We cannot give them what they have lost but we can provide a way for them to have a sense of normalcy.”

The future is unknown, but staying optimistic is Kuoth’s mission. She believes that educating girls will provide a way for boys and girls to receive equality. Ever since Kuoth was a child, the people who helped her survive were women. She finds it hard to imagine how her mother lived through this life before coming to the US. Kuoth believes it to be her responsibility to give back because it was and is her story too, “where they are today… it could have been me.”

By Jennifer Bachrach