Sudanese to continue push for new cultural center

Published 10:32 am Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Sudanese community could be the driving push behind a new cultural center for Austin.

Sudanese representatives and city leaders say a successful community meeting on Sunday could spur more ideas to help Sudanese residents and other immigrants solidify ties with the city.

Local activist Chief Brown Bol said Sudanese residents are trying to become more involved with community affairs and better assimilate to the U.S., but cultural and communication barriers have made transitions difficult for many residents. That’s why Sudanese leaders called for an open dialogue with the community to address issues like education, transportation and law enforcement woes.

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“We were really impressed and really happy with the talk,” he said.

Bol and other leaders are mounting a public campaign for a new community center where people can learn language and other skills, as well as showcase cultural traditions through performances and exhibits.

Sudanese leaders say education is the most important issue in their community, as many Sudanese parents don’t have the kind of formal education their counterparts in Austin do, among other problems. While parents in Sudan tend to let schools deal with educating children, some refugee parents here have struggled with the idea that parents need to take charge of education matters too.

“The majority of the parents we have here, most of them came to the country as refugees,” John Atilo told the Austin City Council Monday during a public meeting. “Most of them are not able to read or write.”

Atilo also said Sudanese children, who are relied on by adults to translate things, may hide school information about their grades, which makes things more difficult for parents.

“We’re asking for help, to try to help us solve this problem” Atilo said.

Mayor Tom Stiehm said he was delighted to see the Sudanese community reach out to others and would support a new community center if the whole community could use it.

Bol was excited by the city’s response and plans to continue bringing awareness about the Sudanese throughout the community.

“We look forward to seeing what will be the community response,” he said.