The portraits below are part of an exhibition curated by Louise E. Shaw for the David J. Sencer CDC Museum entitled Resettling in America: Georgia’s Refugee Communities. The exhibition uses documentary photography, personal testimonies, and artwork to explore the challenges of resettlement and the resiliency of refugees living in metropolitan Atlanta as they build new lives, identities, and a sense of community.
[Faces of CDC]
Abraham Deng Ater, MPH, Health Research Analyst
Country of Origin: South Sudan
CDC since 2012
Between 2001 and 2002, thousands of Sudanese “Lost Boys” were resettled across 38 U.S. states. Abraham was one of them. He arrived in Tucson, Arizona in 2001, after spending 14 years in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. Abraham published a memoir My Lost Childhood that reflects on the suffering he endured in the late 1980s, when Sudan’s Islamic government began to systematically torture and kill Southern Sudanese families, burn their villages, and enslave young boys and girls. His escape from persecution and subsequent sojourn to freedom was long; he walked for thousands of miles naked, barefoot, and ailing from starvation, dehydration, and disease. Many boys perished along the way.
Today, Abraham is an Atlanta-based public health researcher in the Global HIV/AIDS Division, and is co-founder of United Vision for Change, a private foundation dedicated to building schools and health clinics in rural towns of South Sudan. His long-range plans involve returning to East Africa to work in clinics, to organize health workshops, and to empower local health workers to improve community health. In tribute to those who helped him along his own arduous journey, making a difference in the lives of children and refugee camp dwellers is paramount. Abraham is happily married with two children.
James Yai, Janitorial Services Technician
Country of Origin: South Sudan
CDC since 2015
One of thousands of “Lost Boys” resettled from Sudan in 2001, James was torn from his family at an early age. Determined to avoid conscription as a child soldier in the war between North and South Sudan, James walked for months across three countries seeking safe haven. After nine years at Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, James traveled halfway across the globe to Clarkston, Georgia, where he settled into a flat with five other Lost Boys. While juggling multiple jobs, James started working toward an undergraduate degree in counseling and human services. He became a U.S. citizen in 2007.
Informed by his own life experiences as a child of war, James is now pursuing a master’s degree in social work to help children process the psychological and social effects of trauma resulting from war, poverty, or abandonment. He is passionate about his vocation, noting: “So many children are alone and need someone to talk to. Being someone that people are comfortable talking to is a skill.” When not at work or at school, James enjoys relaxing with friends – debating African politics at his favorite pub or playing a round of dominoes.
James has not yet been able to return to Sudan to reconnect with the family he was forced to abandon in 1987. Still, James remains hopeful of someday reuniting with kin and forging scattered ties.
Aun Lor, PhD, MPH, Health Scientist
Country of Origin: Cambodia
CDC since 1997
He survived the Killing Fields of Cambodia as a young boy. But the torture and terror of the brutal civil war and its bloody aftermath inspired CDC staffer Aun Lor to work for a better world. In Aun’s own words: “As a child of war, I lived through four years under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. I was unfortunate to have seen and experienced the cruelty that humanity is capable of inflicting upon itself. I escaped with my life but at the price of losing five members of my family. I have experienced the hardship and uncertainty of living in an overcrowded refugee camp.
I have seen the terror caused by the millions of landmines scattered throughout Cambodia. I have experienced the social injustice that is tearing apart the fabric of humanity. I share these experiences because despite the injustice that I have endured I see hope… I am reminded that within every human being there is a sense of humanity, that no matter how hopeless a situation may seem, there is hope. As public health people we must hold onto that hope.”
Integral to his work at CDC, Aun maintains the principle that health should be considered a basic human right, not a privilege of those who can afford it. As founder and co-chair of the CDC Health and Human Rights Workgroup, he helps keep such ideals in front of CDC.
[re:loom | weaving a better life]
re:loom is a social enterprise that assists homeless, low-income, and refugee adults in metro Atlanta by addressing obstacles to employment. With on-the-job training, re:loom employees become craftsmen and women apprenticed in the art of loom weaving.
Weavehouse is the name of the worksite for re:loom, where volunteers cut up and prepare
donated fabric to be recycled and woven. Weavers use floor looms to transform these fabric pieces into colorful handmade rugs and fashion accessories for sale.
With a stable salary, 100% healthcare coverage, and opportunities to engage in the operation of the Weavehouse, refugee and non-refugee employees gain a financial foundation, leadership skills, and a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
Personal stories of the re:loom weavers