April 25- May 2, 2007
By ANDY HART, The Hartford News Staff Writer
Park Street resident Shadrack Jolobi was named after a Biblical character who was cast into a fiery furnace but survived.
Jolobi himself has survived an ordeal almost equally horrific: growing up in the war-ravaged country of South Sudan. The Sudan has suffered through two civil wars since it became independent in 1956. An estimated 2 million people died in the wars and approximately 4 million became refugees, including Jolobi.
Three years ago, Jolobi and part of his family made it to the United States after spending about five years at a refugee camp in Uganda.
He found an apartment on Park Street and a job in East Hartford, but his thoughts continually ran back to his homeland.
“Look around this apartment. You don’t see much. I worked three years to get a plane ticket [back to the Sudan], because I felt a pain in my heart for my people,” said Jolobi, who is a tribal chief back in the Kajo-Keji region of Sudan.
Jolobi finally returned to Kajo-Keji last August. Although a peace treaty had been signed in January 2005 and many refugees were starting to move back into the area, conditions were – and still are – desperate.
“You look and look but you see no houses, only cemeteries,” he said.
Jolobi decided he had to do something. He purchased a 40-foot shipping container and, with the assistance of Hartford Areas Rally Together (HART), began soliciting donations of gently used clothing, toys, blankets, sheets, housewares and computer equipment. When the container is sent to South Sudan, Jolobi plans to return there to make sure the items are distributed properly. Donations will be accepted until May 15. For more information, call HART at 525-3449.
While filling the 40-foot container is quite a task, Jolobi said it is just the beginning.
“We are trying to start a relationship. We want to show the people of South Sudan that other people care about them,” he said.
When asked what the South Sudanese people need most, Jolobi stuck to the basics: food, shelter, water, healthcare.
Lack of healthcare is an especially dangerous problem in South Sudan. One of Jolobi’s daughters was suffering from malaria and her grandmother tried to carry her on her back to the nearest healthcare facility, which was about 75 kilometers away. The child died of dehydration on the way.
“There are no ambulances, few doctors, very few hospitals in South Sudan,” said Jolobi. Ironically, he now lives only one block from Hartford Hospital.
Most of the South Sudanese who moved back to their homeland after the peace treaty was signed are now living in overcrowded camps where diseases like meningitis, cholera and measles can spread rapidly.
In this year alone, approximately 11,000 cases of meningitis have been reported in South Sudan and 661 people have died from the disease, according to the Mail & Guardian, an African on-line newspaper.
Another 5,218 South Sudanese have been stricken with cholera, a disease which has been virtually eradicated in the United States.
Jolobi said he is beginning to talk to officials at Hartford Hospital to see what can be done. He hopes one day to convene a conference of doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare providers to see what the Greater Hartford region can do to ease the suffering in South Sudan.
In the meantime, he has cleared out a room in his Park Street apartment and is in the process of filling it with donations of clothing, housewares, bedclothes, old computer equipment and other odds and ends that will be shipped to Kajo-Keji. Many of the donations came from his co-workers at Environmental Office Solutions, a recycling company in East Hartford.
While grateful for the generosity, Jolobi knows his 40-foot container will only be drop of water in the South Sudan’s sea of misery.
“A hundred, even a thousand wouldn’t be enough,” he said. “But it’s a start.”