Sarah Awel James Ajith Awuol: A Tribute

The late Awel was daughter of Asunta Ajula, who is from Luo of Bahr el Ghazal and of the late James Ajith Awuol, formerly one of South Sudan’s senior and distinguished career civil servant servants, once director of the Regional Minsitry of Public Service and Administrative Reform.

By Atem Yaak Atem

Members of South Sudanese diaspora community and at home have been hit hard by a tragedy in the death of Sarah Awel James Ajith Awuol, who was wife of Dengtiel Ayuen Kuur, an advocate and Member of National Legislative Assembly representing Central Bor constituency.

The late Awel was daughter of Asunta Ajula, who is from Luo of Bahr el Ghazal and of the late James Ajith Awuol, formerly one of South Sudan’s senior and distinguished career civil servant servants, once director of the Regional Minsitry of Public Service and Administrative Reform.

Late Sarah’s father also served as commissioner of Lakes Province (now Lakes State), in his capacity as a civil servant as was the case with his colleague Venansio Loro who was posted to Jonglei Province. The two and their Equatoria Province counterpart… were judged to have performed with flying colours.

Although this piece is a tribute to the memory of the late Sarah Awel James Ajith Awuol, much of the background to follow is more about her family and about other people who remember her, her parents and husband Dengtiel Ayuen Kuur. This is simply because apart from her wedding party in which I took part in, I hardly interacted with the deceased. In such a way I am not able to quote direct words from her. However, works and words of good persons can become common currency that can be taken without an iota of doubt about their veracity.

Dengtiel, late Sarah’s husband, was my contemporary during our school days from elementary to secondary and finally at the University of Khartoum. We also were in the SPLM/A although we were deployed to different places. He was deployed to western Upper Nile while I was deployed at Radio SPLA and later served at the headquarters of Central Southern Sudan Zone.

We have always been friends. I was also a friend and admirer of his late brother Majok Ayuen Kuur, an honest, kind, and frank individual with humour as his personal trademark.

I came to know the family of James Ajith Awuol in the late 1960s and early 1970s when I was a student in Rumbek Secondary School then relocated to Omdurman because of the first civil (1955-1972). During those years, my cousin Mayom Deng Atem-Parkerou (Pärkërɔu), was an employee of Renk People’s Rural Council. By what could be a coincidence, the four successive adminstrators of Renk happened to hail from Bor District. These were: James Ajith Awuol, Gabriel Aluong Kaang Makuei, Ajang Bior Duot and Nikanora Manyok Aguer.

Living in rural Southern Sudan of the day was too dangerous for students and other members of the Southern intellengensia whom the government security organs accused of being either sympathisers or part-time members of the Anya Nya rebels. That situation compelled students to spend their holidays in towns either in the North or South.

At the time, Renk had a sizeable number of citizens hailing from the former Bor District, who had left their homes due to the floods of the early 1960s, which had devasated much of the southern part of Upper Nile Province, much of it forming the current Jonglei State. That factor accounted for the large number of pupils from Bor who were attending Geiger Elementary School for girls- then a cotton and bean growing area. Geiger is several miles north of Renk.

During my first holdiday at Renk, James Ajith Awuol, Awel’s father and one of Southern Sudan’s senior civil servants at the time, was the District Commissioner of Renk. His residence was near to Mayom’s home and that of Alfred Alier Jokoi, who was also from Bor. Often after work and on Sundays, the three of us would visit Ajith’s residence to chat with him.

We found him as a font of knowledge on civil service and how it operated, the history and cultures of our area and its people, among other matters we either did not know or were outright misleading facts. To me, James Ajith was a source of inexaustible knowledge of the society of what is South Sudan today.

It came as no surprise wherever I went to Renk in those days to learn that James Ajith and his wife, Ajula, were held in high esteem within town and beyond, beginning with the ordinary citizens to the chiefs.

Women acknowledged Ajula’s generosity and love of people regardless of their ethnic origins or social status.

A memorable wedding in Khartoum

On my return to Sudan in March 1982 from the United Kingdom for vacation, I landed in Khartoum on my way to Juba. During my visit to the office of Jonglei Executive Organ that was part of the Jonglei Canal Project, and which was headed by James Ajith Awuol, Daniel Deng Young- popularly known known as Deng- Majääng- and who came second in seniorityinformed me that the wedding of his boss’s daughter was taking place that evening and that he was extending the invitation to me and my friend Dr Akol Diing Duot who was my host.

Because of the extreme heat during that part of the year in Khartoum, I decided not to wear a suit; instead, I dressed up in a white short sleeved check shirt and a pair of black trousers with a pair of matching shoes.

As is the custom with South Sudanese wedding parties, the couple took to the floor to signal the beginning of the joyful occasion. I was among the second group to dance. Nearly the girls present for the occasions were unknown to me- there were many Southern Sudanese families in Khartoum at the time working either for the central government or those representing various departments of the Regional Government in Juba.

Unbeknownst to me and the wedding guests who were sitting near me, the prequent requests from girls to dance with me was raising questions.

Soon, someone came and whispered to a colleague to divulge the secret: “The man who has come from London is wearing a pleasant perfume with a lingering scent.” We laughed heartily. The flagrance was not the only cause of attraction: London, the British capital, was another source because in those day when travelling to the Western world and living there was limited to very few individuals who were presumed to be the lucky ones. Visits and stay in such places were seen as something to be desired.

The real world of bread and water

While the anecdotes from the wedding that took place over forty years ago may sound trivial, Dengtiel Ayuen Kuur and his dear wife Awel Ajith, whose loss we sincerely mourn, have been truly a model couple, beloved parents to their children and to many who knew them, as their time together will be remembered more for the good they did to others. I constantly recall the day Dengtiel gave me a piece of advice that helped in tackling a trying situation I was facing.

To prove the point I have made, I will quote what someone else said about Awel and Dengtiel in 1997 at the height of the civil war. During that year, there was a meeting held in Nairobi by members of the Bor community living in the Kenyan capital.

Among the important personalities in the gathering were Cdr Kuol Manyang Juuk, then member of the SPLM/A Leadership Council and the governor of Upper Nile Region, Bishop Nathaniel Garang Anyieth, and now deceased Rachiel Ayen William Garang Dut, formerly member of the defunct People’s Regional Assembly and then widow of a former politician and MP in Khartoum in the 1960sthe late Ezra Majok Chol.

Life in the city was hard since there was scarcity of means of livelihood. While the meeting was about how the comunity should remain united, late Ayen took to the floor to remind the gathering of the acts of kindness within the community that should be mentioned as a mark of appreciation.

Mentioning Dengtiel and late Sarah Awel by name, Ayen praised the couple who lived in the suburb of Zimmermann, where many of the community members were struggling to feed their children and themselves.

Late Sarah Awel was in the habit of paying concealed visits to neighbours in Zimmermann known to have no known source of livelihood. Once in the target house, late Sarah Awel would give cash to the mother in the household to buy food for thefamily. While the gift was made, the family’s dignity was protected by the way the assistance was delivered.

And where was the source of the Dengtiel’s family money?

Dengtiel, the lawyer, was one of the senior managers of South Sudan Law Society. He and his colleagues were running the organisation that handsomely paid them in hard currency. Dengtiel and late SarahAwel did not want to live in comfort while fellow human beings living next to them were on the verge of starvation.

Another testimony recognising the leadership credentials of the late Sarah Awel has come from Isaiah Chol Aruai, Dengtiel’s former colleague during their school days and the former head of the Bureau of Statistics and Census.

 In a telephone talk between him and me following the break of the news of the tragic death of Awel Ajith, Chol Aruai expressed his strong conviction that the deceased was an outstanding woman leader, not only within the Jieeng community but in the entire South Sudan. Her death, he said, has left a gaping hole in the society of SouthSudan that needs focused leaders of unquestioned personal and leadership integrity.

Sarah Awel James Ajith Awuol will be sorely missed not only by her family but by all who knew her and value the good people and their deeds.

Atem Yaak Atem lives with his family in Australia.

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