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Seeking Refuge

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This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.

Seeking Refuge

A Sudanese refugee and a Puerto Rican executive prove that it's a small, small world

The Lost Boy

1988

Manyang Kot Mangar ’10 was born in Sudan, a nation at war with itself. Muslim versus Christian. Dinka versus Nuer. Government versus rebel. Manyang remembers his early years in the village. Every day, his mother would bake kisra, a soft flatbread, and cook vegetables. Meat, too, if they had it. Every night, she would make up the bed for him and his four siblings, praying over their small bodies.

Their last night together, exhausted from chasing his little brother, Pagarau, and helping his older sister, Ayor, do chores, Manyang falls asleep quickly in the sub-Saharan heat.

He wakes in terror.

Gunshots and screams, as his family scatters in the darkness; he runs into the brush, alone.

Manyang hears a familiar voice, feels strong hands lift him. It is his uncle, who with other villagers, guides the survivors over more than 1,000 miles, through near-starvation, dehydration, threats of animal attacks and crossfire, to a camp in Ethiopia. Manyang is corralled with scores of other boys. Every day, he sits with his class in a circle, drawing his letters in the dirt, eating beans and maize at mealtime, searching the crowd for family. Every night, he cries for his mother. He is 8 years old.

1998

“You must write your life story,” a United Nations official tells the crowd of young men. “Where you’re from, what has happened to you, why you want to leave your country.”

Manyang has not even stepped foot in his country for 10 years.

He has migrated to the Kakuma camp in Kenya, where he receives 14 days’ food to protect and parcel over two weeks. On his own, he continues his schooling, plays soccer with his friends. His uncle visits when he can.

Now, on the cusp of adulthood, he must record his life story so he can go to America. A second heaven, he has been told, which has … everything. Education. Safety. A good life. Manyang writes earnestly, submits the essay for consideration. Is his story — his life — worthy?

Two weeks later, his letter arrives.

2001

Manyang lands in New Haven, Connecticut, on a cold May morning — or so he thinks. His host family says, “Just wait until December.”

They take him grocery shopping, buy him clothes, show him how to do laundry and turn on the stove in the apartment he shares with three other boys from Kakuma. Outside, brick and concrete paths outline the puzzle of a city. There are stairs in every building. Conversely, life revolves around sitting: at computers, in restaurants, on the bus. But Manyang is skilled at adapting. When the snow finally comes, it is strange. The puzzle he has begun to solve is erased, reset in white.

At a local college, Manyang finishes his GED; he works part time at the Yale University bookstore, stocking shelves and helping students navigate foreign language texts. He finds a mother hen in Cecile Cohen, the store’s France-born manager. Studying toward an associate’s degree, he returns to the position every summer. She urges him to think big. What’s next? Perhaps, university?

As Manyang plans for college, a few of his Kakuma friends return to South Sudan. One carries back news from America.

2006

The woman on the phone is weeping. “You are alive.”

The joy that Manyang feels at hearing his mother’s voice after 18 years breaks the dam. He presses the phone to his face, desperate to reach through the line and hold her. She says she searched for him for years, even in Kenya, without luck. Both thought the other had died. His father, he learns, was murdered in the attack.

It is time to come home.

2007

In the village, he recognizes so many faces. It is elation upon elation. His mother crushes him to her. His sisters, too. They are grown and beautiful. His brother is strong.

But first, Bentley. Manyang returns to the U.S. and continues his education. Through scholarships, loans and financial aid, he graduates with a degree in accounting and secures an internship with the minister of finance in the city of Juba. Civil unrest is quieted for the time being. His family pools their cattle for a dowry and arranges a marriage with Atong, a local girl. Though he has been dating a student from Kenya, Manyang falls in line, and in love.

“She’s gorgeous, taller than me,” he says. “We got along right away.”

Manyang takes his place as family patriarch. But the political patriarchy in South Sudan falters and, in 2013, war resumes. Juba is no longer safe. Pagarau has died, gunned down by cattle thieves. In need of money to support family, including his brother’s widow and children, Manyang reaches out to friends at Bentley — two who mentored him during school, who wished him well on marriage and fatherhood, who watch the headlines and email when news from South Sudan is particularly troubling: Jane Ellis and Janet Ehl, then the respective associate dean of academic services and the director of recruiting and employer relations.

“Manyang,” says Janet, “Travelers Insurance is hiring.”

2018

It’s noon in Hartford. Crowds of colleagues in button-downs gather in the lobby of One Financial Plaza, heading out for salads and sandwiches. Seeing Manyang, a Travelers name badge dangling from the lanyard tucked under his collar, I smile and wave. He returns both, greeting me and Alonso, our photographer, with warm handshakes.

After, he’s shy — “I’m a quiet guy,” he says with a soft laugh — and a bit self-conscious to have an entourage. We push through the revolving door onto the humid street and I ask about his son.

“This is Chep,” he says, grinning and showing me one of about 30 photos he has printed. The little boy has cheeks a mile wide. “Chep,” like an affectionate clap on the back, is pronounced quickly and proudly. Manyang has not seen him or Atong since May 2017, when he returned to the States.

“Why don’t you return?” I ask, while Alonso sets up the shot: Manyang backed by the golden reflection of a high-rise.

“There is nothing in South Sudan,” he says. Not even a reliable phone line. “It is a country by name, but nothing really.”

He adds: “I wanted to be part of that nation. But things didn’t work out the way I envisioned.”

Manyang’s new vision: Bring Atong and Chep to New Haven. Per U.S. immigration policy, he took a DNA test to prove Chep is his; the Career Services team at Bentley raised funds to cover the $900 fee, and paperwork continues.

For now, he works hard as an account manager and underwriting assistant at Travelers, sends money home and his nephew to school in Uganda. What of his own homecoming? “If I can contribute something bigger than myself, to just give back in some way … maybe someday. When the war is over.”

About the ‘Lost Boys’

The civil war that consumed Sudan in 1987 forced more than 20,000 boys from their homes; most were Manyang’s age. These “Lost Boys” risked their lives and captivity in the northern army during the 1,000-mile escape to Ethiopia. When conflict erupted in that country, in 1991, some 10,000 of these boys fled once more, many to Kenya’s Kakuma camp. As years passed and no family members came forward, the United Nations Human Rights Council determined these young men had no hope of going home, and worked with the U.S. State Department on resettlement. The Lost Boys represent only half the story, however. Of the 3,600 children would come to America, 89 were girls.

Figures from International Rescue Committee, October 2014


The Humanitarian

Carlos Carrazana ’85 has visited the camps in Ethiopia and Kenya where Manyang grew up, though the two have never met. As executive vice president and chief operating officer for Save the Children (STC), he travels almost every other week to the most distressed areas of the world, assessing which need is most important: health, education or safety.

“Do you cure the child before you teach her?” Carrazana asks. “Which country gets what resources? Which other nonprofits can you partner with in the area? And what do you value more in that moment — child protection or vaccinations?”

It is an emotional job for Carrazana: anxiety and fear for the roughly 155 million children STC serves each year, but also infinite hope and pride.

His career began in banking, including roles at Wells Fargo and Deloitte. Working with world banks spurred his interest in economic growth and sent him back to school for a master’s in public health. His focus shifted to nonprofits, where his background in business and finance is essential to his primary responsibilities. These include acting as the liaison between the STC board and C-suite; managing the general council, several chief officers and executive programming; and professionalizing the 2.2 billion-dollar organization.

When Carrazana joined STC in 2012, he implemented a staff training program that included Six Sigma, the famed process improvement tool introduced at Motorola in the 1980s.

“This is a huge job with limited resources that relies on donations,” he says. “We need the best policies and financial systems out there — better than JPMorgan — because we owe it to the children and the donors.”

Often, he adds, liberal arts graduates lack skills that a graduate of Bentley might take for granted. For example, how to create a sustainable infrastructure in a crisis area, distribute food and water, spot fraud at warehouses, compensate local businesses and others for resources. And, always, embrace change.

To business graduates, he says: “You are wanted, because your skills are not ingrained in international development.”

Raised in Puerto Rico to Cuban parents (a self-described Cuban-Rican), Carrazana has a glass-half-full outlook. When a problem arises, he takes it step by step. How can we accomplish the first goal — and move forward?

“Even when times are hardest — famines, hurricanes, earthquakes, genocide — you can’t look a child in the eyes and not be positive for them,” he says. “Because we’re going to help as much as we can. It’s my privilege to make sure of that.”


Taking Flight

In 2016, Massachusetts admitted more than 13,000 of an estimated 5 million Syrian refugees. In Flight, filmmaker and Bentley professor Casey Hayward gives a voice and face to this population, whose members often live quietly among us.

“I never wanted to leave Syria,” says one participant in the documentary. “We left thinking it would just be a month.”

It was 2014 when the family fled to the Za’tari camp in Jordan; the film shows their gratitude for being relocated to the U.S., but also the desire to raise their children back home.

Hayward has won regional Emmy Awards for his documentary work and teaches a course on filmmaking at Bentley. “My work may seem quiet, because I try not to sensationalize their struggles,” says the associate professor of English and media studies. “My role is education.” 

Meet the families and watch the film.