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SNAPPY 7: Jal – My sister was a sex slave, the other was married at 13

He spent several years as a fighting child soldier and his desire was to kill as many Muslims as he could. South Sudanese-Canadian artiste, actor and political activist, Emmanuel Jal, sat down with Nairobi News and narrated how he overcome everything to be where he is today.

1. Recording artiste, actor, entrepreneur and a peace activist, but before all that you were something else; take us through your journey. My life began in a different way. I was born during a difficult time. My country was at war with itself. The first time I witnessed war I thought the world was ending. Fire dropping from the sky, ground shaking and people running to different direction. I still have fresh memories of it.

At five, I witnessed my aunt raped in front of me and my mother’s bodyguard shot and his guts spilling out. For several years, we lived and walked next to rotten bodies. I become a refugee in my own homeland. At seven I was sent to school in Ethiopia where I ended up becoming a child soldier.

2. As a child soldier, your desire was to kill as many Muslims as possible, what changed? When I was being trained as a child soldier, the pictures in my mind would be flashbacks of our village. It would bring back the dead bodies that I saw and people screaming and I still have scars on my foot after I was burnt.

I had a certain feeling in me which I can only describe as bitterness and anger which made me hate a specific type of people. My desire at that time was to become a killer. To kill as many Muslims and Arabs as possible. When I came to Kenya I was exposed to different culture, different knowledge and I was able to learn how to forgive and think differently. When one is bitter, their mind is consumed and he becomes a slave to the person who wronged you.

3. In your latest album ‘Naath’, you featured your sister, why? She has her own story to tell, but because in South Sudan there are not many women who are outspoken and those that have experienced the violence that we are talking about. I introduced her to music because it brought significance in my life.

4. Your sisters have gone through a lot, one was a sex slave and the other was married at the age of 13,  how did everyone overcome that at such a young age? A while back in when you look at African culture it was okay for a 13-year-old to be married. It was okay, but now it is not the way forward because there is a great consciousness.

One of my sisters was married against her will. What can she do? Girls didn’t have a say in who to marry them. In her own words she said she was in a relationship, but a slave because she had no say, she could not divorce and if she questions, the system would be beat her up in public or put her under house arrest.

5. Why do you say, you are responsible to your own happiness and do you ever smile? Yeah, I smile a lot, but the most important thing is joy. Happiness can be restituted by accident, so the biggest win as a person is, do you have joy, do you have peace of mind? Those are the things.

6. You say being a Christian is the easiest thing, why? If you read the Bible well, there is hope. If you put your burden aside, you carry mine, I will carry yours which is like an easy trade.

7. What can you tell the young ones who think they can never overcome what they are going through right now? Find your purpose and your heart knows your purpose. Give them your best shot with your best skills and it will take you out to where you want to go. Your mind knows your worth and your heart knows your potential. Your heart will always push you but your mind has limitations because it will only create you things based on the tools and resources available to it. Be curious, be ambitious, open your ears, learn, read, train, always prepare and then act to the burning desire.