2012-05-25 / Front Page

Sacred stories touch young students

By Jack Flagler Staff Writer

Left, Waleed Issa, Chomba Kaluba, center, and Yourci Mulamba speak to a Winslow Junior High School student. (Rosemarie De Angelis courtesy photo) Left, Waleed Issa, Chomba Kaluba, center, and Yourci Mulamba speak to a Winslow Junior High School student. (Rosemarie De Angelis courtesy photo) One could forgive Ageno Cap for becoming emotional while telling her story to an auditorium full of Winslow Junior High eighth graders at Southern Maine Community College on May 18.

Cap is one of eight members of “Color of Community,” a student-action group formed by college students from around the world. Eight-members of the group shared “sacred stories” and interacted with the middle schoolers about issues such as finding the ability to forgive, avoiding stereotyping and how to confront bullying in schools.

Cap detailed her childhood in South Sudan, from being a 10- year-old tasked with cooking for a family and looking after children, to the anger she developed for her sister for choosing not to intervene while her sister’s husband treated Ageno cruelly. Cap’s story culminated in her physical journey from South Sudan to the United States in 2005, and her emotional journey in forgiving her sister before her sister’s death in 2008.

But throughout Cap’s story, her voice remained strong and composed, rarely breaking or quivering. After the event, she explained why.

“It’s part of healing for me. Before I joined Color of Community I didn’t know anywhere I could tell my story, but when I came here I could tell my stories and listen to other people’s stories too,” Cap said.

“That has taught me that everyone has something in their life, you know, that they have gone through … I did the sacred story twice, now today was the third time. So I didn’t cry because I felt like I’m getting over it. I felt like it’s really great.”

South Portland City Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis, SMCC professor and Color of Community advisor, said “The students (in Color of Community) all came into a new country, many with no language skills, no idea about the customs in America, and no friends here. So we hope there will be a connection between their stories and the eighth graders’ experience of bullying, or moving to a new school, or whatever else may be happening in their lives.”

After the event, Winslow students Ciera Poulin and Paige Veilleux said they were affected by the stories and the way each of the speakers was able to show courage and find the ability to forgive. Poulin and Veilleux also said they thought some of their classmates’ opinions on bullying may have changed.

Kateryna Zimina, a Color of Community member who immigrated to the U.S. from the Ukraine, said the real test will be not what the students say in an auditorium, but their actions when faced with a bullying situation.

“I hope that all that they say is going to come true, that they really would do that,” said Zimina. “None of them said, ‘No, I just would walk away (from a bullying victim) because it’s none of my business. But if people all think like that, then why are we still observing this in schools?”

Zimina said joining Color of Community has helped not only to break down the stereotypes those in the audience may hold about other cultures, but to get past her own stereotypes as well.

“Do you remember my first class?” she asked De Angelis. “I told you, there is a person in the airport going to the Middle East, you know, they take extra care considering them to be a terrorist. And what did you tell me? ‘Kateryna you are stereotyping – this is so wrong.’ And now we have Waleed, I love that guy,” she said, referring to panel member Waleed Issa, originally from Iraq.

Yourci Mulamba, who has lived in the U.S. for just six months after coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo, also addressed the issue of stereotypes in his sacred story. He said he developed negative stereotypes of white people when he attended an elite private school in his home country, where the white children called him hateful names and treated him cruelly.

“I learned I was wrong. I judged all white people by my experience with a few,” he said in his speech. “There is no race, we are all human beings.”

He punctuated his speech by ending with “I love you all.”

Mulamba, Cap and Zimina, who all gave their sacred stories at the event, were joined on the Color of Community panel by James Okech, who, like Cap, is from South Sudan; Truc Nguyen from Vietnam; Waleed Issa from Iraq; Nicole Calvert, an American student who moved 18 times in her childhood to six different schools; and Chomba Kaluba from Zambia.

Kaluba, an SMCC and Bates College alumnus, founded Kachlite, an organization that supports development in his native country through microfinance projects. He was the commencement speaker during SMCC’s graduation ceremony on May 20.

Kaluba said the group appealed to him because he saw an opportunity to change a trend he was noticing in the world.

“It’s not going to take someone coming from somewhere else to change things,” Kaluba said. “It is us who are going to change things. We are here to be mortals. I personally came here because what this group stands for is what concerns everybody.”

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