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A Refugee's Journey: From Sudan to America

It's taken Malik Agobi, 38, a long time to reach his destination. The truck driver fled his home in Port Sudan with his wife and children 3 years ago, and arrived in Nashville, Tenessee in March. He never expected to become a refugee.

He was born in Southern Sudan and lived most of his adult years in the north. As a truck driver, he spent endless hours on the roads between Khartoum and Port Sudan. That's where he was picked up by government security agents in 2001. "I was arrested without any cause," he says. "They just suspected me to be helping the opposition parties because where I used to move with my truck to collect some goods is where opposition parties operate."

Mr. Agobi spent 41 days in prison. When he was released, however, he says he was still not a free man. "I was released under a condition that I don't leave my town and some people should not come to visit me," he says.

Mr. Agobi quickly realized that the only way to regain his freedom and live without fear was to leave Sudan. He decided to take his family north, to Egypt.

In Cairo, friends helped him find a place to live and a job at a store, but it didn't pay enough to support his family, he began to consider other options.

He decided to approach the United Nation's refugee agency for help coming to America. The Agobis finally reached Nashville, Tennessee, in March. Malik Agobi says their adjustment has been made easier by the Catholic Charities, a non-profit organization that provides social services to people in need.

Sarwar Hawez says he understands what the Agobis need because he was once a refugee himself, arriving in Nashville in 1997 from Northern Iraq. He visits the family twice a week. "I'm just coming to visit them to see them, how they're doing, what's going on with them," he says.

Holly Johnson, director of refugee and immigration services for Catholic Charities, says this assistance will continue until Mr. Agobi finds work and can support his family. Finding a job for a refugee, Ms. Johnson says, can take up to 6 months.

"Employers usually call us when they have an opening," she says. "We don't have to do a lot of research to find jobs for our refugees. The employers know how easy it's to employ refugees. They come to work on time. They work extra shifts. So, they don't have a problem."

Malik Agobi is optimistic about finding a job and building a good life for his wife and five children. "My plan is to educate my children because I failed to educate my self," he says. "I'd like very much to educate them so they become good men in the future."

His sons have started attending school, even though they don't speak English yet. Willson, 16, says that adds to the challenges they face in adapting to their new life. "When I went to the school for the fist time, I met a lot of kids," Willson says. "I could only communicate with those who were speaking Arabic. They came from Sudan like me." But the teenager says he expects to speak fluent English in just 2 months, and be able to talk with his classmates and teachers.

It will probably take his mother, Asirina, a bit longer to learn the language, but she says she's planning to work hard to do that. "I want to learn English so that I can speak with people around me and help my kids with their school homework," she says. "I hope I can find a job and wish my kids a good life here, in America."

As his family settles down in their new hometown, Malik Agobi says they already feel at home. Other Sudanese refugees in the neighborhood, he says, come to visit them, offering their support and sharing memories of Sudan and hopes for a better life in the United States.