Report date
July 2022
Learning Log

Reflecting on my fellowship Journey, I have seen courageous leadership in my life. I have learned to be a courageous leader in my life. I have been offered both tremendous challenges in my life and tremendous opportunities. A courageous leader sees opportunity within challenges. Rather than using fear to lead, a courageous leader uses the tool of peace. My name is Matuor Alier, In this essay, I will explain what it means to be a courageous leader.

Leadership came for me at a young age and I discovered during my fellowship journey. I was born in South Sudan, during my country’s civil war. I was born into a polygamous family; my father was married to two wives. Together I had 22 siblings. One afternoon, my older brother who was 11 and I, who was seven, went to swim in the River Nile. While we were there, our village was attacked by Sudanese soldiers. They bombed and burn down our village, We ran. My older brother advised me to follow the crowd. We followed the crowd for months. We followed the crowd through the jungle. We followed the crowd while we starved, while some got sick, while some eaten by lions and while some died. We followed the crow for nearly a thousand miles to the refugee Camp in Ethiopia, where I spent the next 10 years of my life. At this camp, the United Nations helped us, the Lost Boys of Sudan.

During my life at the camp, I was without parents or adult supervision, I learned to be independent and responsible, starting with just daily living. With other orphans’ children like myself, I took the role of leadership in my group to care for myself and for the other Sudanese Lost Boys. At this camp, I was challenged with the responsibility for the survival and daily lives of other orphans and myself. From this huge challenge came opportunity.
An American named David visited our camp for a week. After observing us, he asked me to attend a six-month certificate-based peace course. My approach to struggles and challenges today continues to be focused on peace-building and community building. I left the camp because I was given an opportunity in the form of a scholarship to come to the U.S. I was the top student (4.0 GPA) in my high school, in Ethiopia, where I studied in Arabic and Amharic. I was able to write and speak five languages. However, when I arrived in Philadelphia, PA, in 2006, I didn't know any English. High school was a tremendous challenge because I had to take intensive English courses. To Help further to meet this challenge of learning English, I watched cartoons and repeated what I heard. One year later, I graduated from high school and applied and was accepted to Pennsylvania State University. Because English was my sixth language, I had to work twice as hard as my American classmates to complete my undergraduate degree. What did I learn from this? I learned life can be unfair and very hard, yet anger was not the tool of a leader. Instead, I chose peace and turned challenge into opportunity.
I am grateful to be in America and have taken on many leadership challenges to make life better for others. As a leader of the South Sudanese Lost Boys in Philadelphia, I worked on the petition to set up voting on the 2011 referendum to establish South Sudan as an independent country and mobilized 236 voters and found sponsorships from the local community to transport us to Washington, D.C. for voting. When I moved to North Dakota, I became a ND Change Network fellow. Through this opportunity I have applied practical strategies for building an inclusive and more equitable community. For example, I have collaborated to create One-on-one tutoring, and mobilization of volunteers. I continue to organize this project and other investments in academic enrichment, youth development and the preservation of the Sudanese culture. The impact of courageous leadership through peace is very clear. In 2018, 178 students participated in tutoring projects, and we had 98% graduation rate compared to 50% of the prior year. Youth and elder engagement have reduced criminal behaviors amongst youth, and nearly all our Sundanese children born in North Dakota can read, write, and speak our Native language. Participating in the Blandin Foundation’s Leadership in Ethnically Diverse Communities training has deepened my skills in building relationships and addressing conflicts across cultures. This extends to my role as a Multicultural Representative for ELCA, representing 225 churches in the region where I strive to help people of color be recognized as part of the Lutheran faith in the USA.
I believe courageous leadership can go unnoticed. Currently, I am a church leader, community leader, Director of Equity and Inclusion, father, and a husband. As chair of the S. Sudanese Community in Fargo. I was able to bring our members together every weekend, to address issues we are facing as a community of immigrants. Most surfacing issues were, finding work, securing housing, accessing services, transportation, understanding and overcoming cultural differences, learning and understanding English and raising children in a culturally-unfamiliar context and ensuring children's educational success. Together we have addressed concerns regarding an increase in teenage pregnancy and criminal behaviors amongst youth leading to immigration and citizenship issues and generational misunderstanding between parent and children.
My early life experiences had me grow up understanding that leadership as a responsibility for the welfare of your entire community. My grandfather, a leader in our community, would say, “I cannot be whole unless everyone is whole”. When I think about my leadership goals, I think about how to ensure the wellbeing of everyone I know. I have a responsibility to continue to be a leader who people call first for help, who they know will show up, who they trust to be fair. Members of the South Sudanese community and other communities ask me for help with immigration documents, legal representation, Habitat for Humanity applications, snow clearing, fundraising, translation, personal concerns, and community initiatives. Institutional and public leaders rely on me to represent immigrant and refugee interests, to bridge between groups and explain cultural differences.
As a leader, I want to keep helping other people, but I also want my role to be more than only responding to people’s concerns and challenges. I want to help my community transition from just surviving to have the security and stability they need to thrive, take care of each other and realize collective goals.
I want to evolve as a leader into a role of organizing my community and other communities to advocate for their own interests. I want my community to move from isolation to interdependence and impact.
Because of the investment in me as a Lost Boy where I learned to lead through peace, I am no longer lost. I know who I am. I am a courageous leader who faces challenges, and through the tool of peace, leads a community to become even stronger.