Alexandria’s Struggling Sudanese

Liam Stack meets families who have found refuge in an ancient port city

by Liam Stack

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On a quiet February day in Ibrahimeyya, a residential neighborhood in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, a group of Sudanese women arrives at the wrought iron gates of Sacred Heart Church. While some Sudanese families live near the church, most of these women come from all over this sprawling seaside metropolis. Every two weeks, they travel long distances to pick up groceries, upon which they have come to depend.

Life as a refugee is especially difficult in Egypt, a resource-poor nation that struggles to provide for its own citizens. For many, the biweekly food bank at Sacred Heart helps keep their families afloat.

“If it weren’t for these rations, I wouldn’t be able to feed my family,” said Florence Mandera. “It would be so hard because food is so expensive.

“It would cost 55 Egyptian pounds [$10] to buy all this myself,” she continued, holding her baby daughter, Gloria, in one arm as she balanced a grocery bag against her leg.

Each package includes a two-week supply of essentials: baby formula, beans, bouillon cubes, canned tuna, macaroni, milk powder, rice, soap, sugar and tomato paste. Though not exorbitant, the cost of these items is simply too high for most Sudanese families living in Alexandria.

“We have to struggle,” said Mrs. Mandera, who moved to Egypt in 2007 from Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, with hopes of studying business in the English division of Alexandria University. But since becoming a mother, she has had trouble supporting a family and attending school.

“It’s hard to make money here [and] the little bit of money we do make always goes right to our children, and that’s why the church works so hard to give us food,” she said. “Even if we have nothing, they make sure we have something.”

Still, the young mother manages to make it to class and is completing her first year of coursework. She hopes to graduate in four years.

“After I finish I have to go back to Sudan,” Mrs. Mandera added. “I have to serve my people.”

Father Jal Malith greeted the food bank’s visitors from the steps of the church. A native of southern Sudan, he left it 17 years ago, seeking to escape the civil war that threatened his hometown of Aweil. Joining the ranks of the millions who fled the conflict, he packed up whatever possessions he could carry and traveled north to Egypt. Arriving in Alexandria, he enrolled at Alexandria University and later embraced Catholicism. After earning his degree, he entered the Franciscans, becoming the community’s first Sudanese-Egyptian novice.

As a student, he had hoped to return to Sudan after graduation to serve his country. Now serving the Latin Apostolic Vicariate in Alexandria, he is helping his countrymen who have chosen to leave their homes in Sudan to eke out a better life in Egypt.

Among Alexandria’s Sudanese community, Father Jal is a larger than life figure. Under his direction, Sacred Heart parish provides aid to 58 Sudanese families — more than 700 individuals — throughout Alexandria and the Nile Delta.

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Tags: Egypt Refugees Education Poor/Poverty Sudan