When Home is New
Stella Kenyi, 30, was 8 years old when her mother and four brothers, one a newborn, left Yei, a town surrounded by teak plantations close to the borders with Uganda and Congo. It was the first time Kenyi had left her hometown, and while fleeing was unsettling, it was also an adventure that offered novel sights, sounds, and tastes. “It was the first time I had chocolate.” Four years later, her family was given asylum in the United States, and the country soon felt like home. Kenyi’s oldest brother enlisted in the U.S. Marines and served in Iraq; her middle brother is a policeman in Virginia; and her youngest brother played basketball for Harvard University. Kenyi herself got a master’s degree in development from Cornell University. Kenyi, who came to Juba before January’s secession vote, says she was moved when the polls opened, thinking of her great-grandmother, who had refused to leave the family home when Yei came under siege. The family believes the grandmother is no longer alive—they haven’t heard from her and have been unable to find her. “I was just thinking about the people who had fled and died for the right to become a separate country. Their freedoms were curtailed for such a long time. And I was thinking about the fact that now we have a chance to help shape and mold this country.” As a manager for a major USAID contractor in South Sudan, Kenyi came to the volatile region to work with county commissioners, village elders, and other local officials even before the vote. “I’d been doing development work for a while. But this was exciting because we were trying to focus on the north-south border. It felt like a clean slate, like ‘Where do we want to begin?” Kenyi's memory as a child is of the Nile River.
Images © 2011. Portfolio design by Neon Sky.