By Rudina Vojvoda
NEW YORK, 7 December 2012 – At the age of 7, Emmanuel Jal walked hundreds of miles in search of an education. Born in a war-torn area that is now part of South Sudan, he joined thousands of children who were told schools awaited them in Ethiopia.
Instead, they were sent by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to military camps for training. Twenty-five years later, Mr. Jal has channelled his experience into music and strives to protect the childhood of others by advocating for peace, justice and equality.
To celebrate Human Rights Day, 10 December, UNICEF podcast moderator Femi Oke spoke with Emmanuel Jal about his music, his work as a peace activist and his thoughts on South Sudan.
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Inspiring people to do their best
At the age of 11, after having survived several years of war, Mr. Jal managed to escape to Kenya, where he discovered hip-hop as a powerful vehicle to convey his story.
“When I tell the story through the music, it’s much easier, there’s no pain in it,” said Mr. Jal. “I am using it for social emotional learning, so it’s part of education.” Mr. Jal’s goal is to inspire people to do their best in becoming global citizens and building a peaceful society.
For him, the concept of peace is quite simple. “Peace is justice, equality, freedom for all. That is what people in South Sudan want, and peace is when my belly is full. I can also say that peace is when conflicts are managed in a mature manner, that the violence can be prevented.”
Education is the first step
According to Mr. Jal, education is the first step towards peaceful societies and personal fulfilment. In his school tours around Canada and the United States of America as a peace promoter, Mr. Jal often talks about different aspects of education and how it has an impact on one’s life. “When you say ‘education’, there is a technical aspect to it, and there is an emotional aspect. The emotional aspect is by people telling stories, people learning from one another, and they open up as human beings,” said Mr. Jal, stressing that the biggest battle young people need to fight now is to educate themselves.
This battle becomes quintessential in the context of South Sudan, a new country struggling to maintain peace and move towards sustainable development. Discussing challenges in his home country, Mr. Jal said, “No country is easy to start. In a new country, there will be corruption – a new country will be behind in so many things.”
But Mr. Jal believes that things can turn around when education is made available and people begin to learn that it is everyone’s responsibility to build her or his country and take pride in it.
His message on Human Rights Day goes out to people who are facing atrocities. “They should know that help is coming, that people are not turning a blind eye, that people are working on their behalf,” he said.
Mr. Jal’s most recent project – We Want Peace 2012 – brings together musicians and peace activists such as President Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Ringo Starr, George Clooney, Alicia Keys, Peter Gabriel and Das Racist in an attempt to inform the world that peace is a possibility.
To learn more about Emmanuel Jal’s work, please visit: http://www.emmanueljal.org/.