PHOTO | ATEM MARTINO KUNJOK
A Grade 2 Classroom at one of three schools ‘under the trees’ in southern Sudan that Atem Martino Kunjok helped establish
REGINA — Atem Martino Kunjok’s story is not much different than others who have escaped the brutal terror of civil war, except in one way: a refugee from Sudan, he has returned to that country three times, once to get married and twice to give back some of the help he received from the Catholic Church.
Kunjok comes from south Sudan and never expected to get much beyond Grade 3. But with the help of a Comboni Missionary sister, he advanced his education and entered the seminary, where he remained for seven years.
“I wanted to be a priest but I am the only male in the family and they did not like the idea of me being a priest and not having children,” Kunjok said in an interview. So he left the seminary and became involved working with the poor.
The civil war was still raging and many of his friends were killed. His life was endangered when he refused to give a rebel commander food he was distributing to poor families.
“I told him, ‘How can I give you this sorghum when all these people are starving?’ and he became angry.”
A priest, recognizing the danger, arranged to get Kunjok to Kenya where he lived as a refugee for two years and taught high school in the refugee camp.
Eventually he was put in touch with World University Services of Canada who arranged for him to come to Canada and complete his education at Campion College, University of Regina. He arrived in 2001 and, with WUSC’s support for a year and working part time with a security company, he completed bachelor’s degrees in arts and education.
He returned to Sudan in 2004 to marry but it took more than a year to save money and complete the paperwork before his bride was able to come to Canada. They now have two children, a boy and a girl.
At the urging of the bishop of El Obeid, he returned to Sudan in 2008 to teach and help set up schools. He returned to Canada and completed his degrees but again answered a plea from the bishop to return to Sudan.
“I told him to wait until I completed my internship and then I went.”
He left in April 2010, helped establish three schools “under the trees,” organized volunteers to teach and did some teaching himself. One Grade 2 classroom had 140 children and other classrooms had as many or more.
He also purchased bricks for a school he wants to build. Three Saskatchewan organizations are helping to finance the project. Kunjok said he would like to return and offer more help but he now needs to focus on supporting his family.