Sharing Stories, Linking Lives: Literacy Practices among Sudanese Orphaned Refugee Youth

Principal Investigator:
Michigan State University
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In this project, Kristen Perry studied literacy practices among Sudanese orphaned refugee youth, commonly referred to as the "Lost Boys of Sudan." The young men in this study were born in Southern Sudan and were forced to flee their rural villages at a young age, due to the brutal civil war in that country. They walked first to a refugee camp in Ethiopia and then on to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, where they lived for about a decade before being resettled in Michigan. Three youth, from the Dinka and Madi tribes, were focal participants in this study. Using participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and artifact collection, Perry investigated the youths' various literacy practices in different life domains in Africa and the U.S., the ways in which languages (English, KiSwahili, Dinka, Arabic, etc) across and within these practices, and the ways in which U.S. school practices aligned with those of the community of orphaned youth. Analyses indicated that, while these young men had come from a predominantly oral culture in the Sudan, their lives in Kenya and the U.S. relied increasingly on literacy practices. Practices related to religion, formal schooling, and organizing and maintaining community were particularly important for these young men. Digital literacy practices were particularly salient to the young men, as they allowed them to stay in touch across the Sudanese diaspora. School literacy practices differed from other practices in that they tended to have an individualistic focus, while the youths' other practices tended to be strongly community-oriented. In later analyses, Perry also explored the ways these young men had transformed the traditional practice of oral storytelling into a written practice and shared their experiences with the wider world, and how literacy practices allowed them to build/organize and maintain a sense of Sudanese community, despite being orphans who are scattered around the world.

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