South Sudan’s diaspora communities from around the world have come together to celebrate their new home country.
Inside a room of the already functioning embassy of South Sudan in Washington, invited dignitaries and South Sudan immigrants watched with bright smiles a live stream from events taking place in Juba.
Outside there was an even more joyous mood, as women danced and sang liberation songs.
Christopher George, a southern Sudanese who has been living in the United States for 11 years, drove 10 hours from the southeastern U.S. state of Georgia.
He said the drive was much easier than the long and often violent struggle for separation and independence. “It is not a long distance. If we can bear for 22 years, a distance of 10 hours is nothing for us. This is the first embassy for us. I experience it as historical moment for me as a person," he said.
Elizabeth Kuch, a real estate investor living in Pennsylvania, fled her home in Jonglei state in what is now South Sudan by foot 10 years ago, drifting as a refugee for years. She said she finally felt like a first-class citizen. “Even though I am not in South Sudan today, I am here in America, but I still feel the sense of belonging. This is what we have been missing all of these years. And finally, finally, I am still having a fever because of freedom, but most importantly, I can feel the sense of belonging which is the most important thing I have been missing in my life," she said.
South Sudan's flag was raised in Washington to signal the country's arrival in the international community.
More singing and tears followed as soldiers raised South Sudan’s flag on a sidewalk outside the building where the embassy is located, with dozens of people looking on.
The consular affairs officer, Agnes Oswaha, said she was very proud of her country’s first day and her fellow countrymen, women and children, including in the diaspora.
“Today as you have seen at the embassy of the Republic of South Sudan, we have various generations, as well as babies of 7 days, as well as old people who are highly regarded in our community so basically this is a day for all of us, for us who are living today, we are laying foundations for generations to come, as well as fulfilling the aspirations of our ancestors," she said.
Participants said the diaspora’s role would be very important in building their country, which has little infrastructure but large oil reserves. They said the many challenges included ending internal sectarian violence, preventing corruption and the difficult co-existence with Sudan to the north, with many issues still unresolved.
During the Washington celebration, a gust of wind nearly toppled the pole holding the new raised flag, but soldiers and other new South Sudanese nationals rushed to steady it.