OyChicago blog

My friend, Guy

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Last year, while volunteering on MASA Israel Journey—Israel experiential programs sponsored in part by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago—in South Tel Aviv, I met an extraordinary friend named Guy. I volunteered with the African refugee community at the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), a non-profit that helps refugees reach basic social services in Israel. Guy translated for me while I interviewed refugees for their visa applications and *UNHCR resettlement.

Guy is a young man from Darfur who lost his family in the genocide and fled to Israel. Each day, Guy told me his dream was to move to the United States and study at a college. Guy achieved his dream and in December he flew to the US on a student visa. This did not come easily, however. He worked hard and had the courage to ask for help from his friends around the world.

My friend, Guy photo 1

Guy, a Sudanese refugee, and Tamar, an associate with JUF Missions.

Guy recently started school at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, through a program at their Center for International Education. I’m sponsoring Guy in Chicago along with a Maya Paley, director of Community Engagement and Special Programs at the National Council of Jewish Women.

Most people ask me about my motivations in helping Guy since I’m young, removed from what’s happening in Israel, and living in Chicago. To be honest, I never saw it as an option to NOT help him. He may come from a completely different background than me—Sudanese, Christian, poor, and traumatized—but he became a very close friend who needed my support.

Guy arrived in the middle of winter with only warm-weather clothes. So, what was my response? Take action. I immediately contacted friends and family across the country to help me with clothing donations. I helped him get acclimated to Chicago (Guy’s first El ride was a loud and crowded experience) and helped him get situated financially.

My friend, Guy photo 2

My Jewish upbringing has given me the moral foundation for sponsoring Guy. Thanks to my parents, who’ve instilled in me the importance of gemilut chasadim, or acts of loving kindness, I’ve always had a passion for helping others. I grew up in a close-knit Jewish community in Milwaukee. My dad is Israeli so we always had Israeli family and friends stay at our home for long periods of time. I grew up sharing everything with my siblings, and we all leaned on each other for help. Throughout high school and college, I participated in B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) and the UW-Madison Hillel respectively, which both focus on Jewish leadership, community service and tikkun olam.

After volunteering in Israel with the African refugee community, I settled in Chicago and found a job in the best place for Jewish communal work and charitable giving—the Jewish United Fund. I also spend my Sunday mornings teaching religious school to senior kindergarteners at Chicago’s Anshe Emet Synagogue.

These experiences and positions have grounded my Jewish identity and me. I believe in tzedakah, doing the right thing, giving back, and helping those who are struggling.

Guy came to my doorstep in January and I have not given up trying to help him. The Jewish community I’ve created for myself throughout the years, filled with family, friends and colleagues, have given me the strength and courage to help Guy. He is an amazing person—forthcoming, inspiring and gentle. He speaks highly of Israel—despite the hardships for the African refugee community—and the safety he found there. Some days I’m overwhelmed by the amount of responsibility in sponsoring Guy, but I remind myself that I’m doing the right thing by helping this remarkable person.

Like some of my family who survived the Holocaust, Guy is a survivor of the Darfur genocide and I’m grateful to have him in my life.

Read Guy's story here.

For more information on Guy’s story, email me at tshertok@gmail.com.

Masa Israel Journey is a joint project of the Government of Israel, the Jewish Agency for Israel and its partners, the Jewish Federations of North America, and Keren Hayesod-UJA.

*UNHCR stands for The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Tamar Shertok is an associate in the Missions department of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.


In my words ... (Guy's story)

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In my words ... (Guy's story) photo 1

Guy survived the Darfur genocide and found refuge in Israel.

What I have been through is not something one can ever forget. I come from a very poor family, but I believe I have a future: I want to help my people and make Darfur a safer and better place for all people from that region of Sudan. It was my dream to study since I was kid, but I have faced many challenges along the way. I survived the genocide in Darfur.

I came to the United States as a student both because I wanted to study and because I needed a safe place to do so. I was born in 1986 in a village called Mara in Darfur with the name Abdelhamid Yousif Ismail Adem. I am the second of four brothers and three sisters. I recently discovered that one of my brothers is alive, but I do not know whether the rest are alive today. After seeing people being killed in the name of religion, I converted from Islam to Christianity. With this change, I decided to change my name to Guy [JOSIF].

My parents were farmers who cultivated fruits like citrus. We owned cows, goats, sheep, horses, and camels. We were self-reliant. There were around 2,000 people in our village; all of us were farmers. Before the genocide happened I used to help my father and mother in the farm when I returned from school. Unfortunately, I had to stop attending school after grade six. My parents could not afford the fees.

In 2003 our lives changed indefinitely. The war broke out in Darfur and my village was looted and burned. We remained with nothing. One afternoon in August, 2003 we were having tea together and my brothers were playing in front of us. Suddenly nine people with Sudanese military uniforms came into our compound and started beating us. Our village was attacked by around 200 members of the Janjaweed. They came on foot, horse, camels, and cars with machine guns and Kalashnikovs, shooting at every human being in sight. They burned all the houses in our village and took the cattle. I got a chance to escape, but never saw my family again.

In my words ... (Guy's story) photo 2

While running I met some people from the UN Mine Action office and they stopped and asked me where I was going. I told them that my village was burned and that I left my family there. I told them I was not sure if the villagers survived. I was afraid. I stayed with them while they hid me in their car and went to my village. They saw that everyone was killed and they could not find my family. They took me to their main office in Khartoum where I started working with them as a security guard. There was one man who supported me to go to the Evangelical school in the evenings. I studied from class one up to class four. I continued to the Young Men’s Christian Association Centre then to Abraham Higher School in Bahre where I sat for my high school examination and succeeded.

I began studying at Juba University, Khartoum. After one month, the government created a plan to arrest, imprison, and torture the students from Darfur or South Sudan. Some of my good friends were killed. I was arrested for three months and put in prison, tortured, and beaten. They asked me what I was doing working with the UN. I was released and arrested again and again. The man who had helped me from the UN wrote in the newspaper that he had helped a displaced person from Darfur who had no family. In the article he explained that I was arrested a few times and that bad things had happened to me and he requested my release. The security men released me and told me that I had one week to leave Sudan.

I traveled to Egypt by train where I spent one month before finding people to help me get to Israel. In the evening we were taken by a small bus to a Bedouin camp where I stayed for nine days. We were 23 people from Darfur and Eritrea. Thirteen got killed in front of our eyes; only ten survived and arrived in Israel. The Egyptian border patrol shoots at people randomly. People arrive in Israel with bullet wounds, families are separated at the border, and others lose their lives there.

After all this, I was looking for a place where I can be safe to study and do something for future generations. My dream is that with an education I can create change. Education is the key to life, but in Israel it was too hard to go to school. I was accepted to the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois and have been studying there since January, 2013.

Here in the United States, I can get the education I need to help my people back in Darfur.

Read a story by Guy's sponsor here.

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