From Sudan to Standish

Talk with Banak Thiwat ’11

by Erin Buote ’09

In 1994, Banak Thiwat left his home country of Sudan, which was torn by civil war, disease and starvation. He and his father made the long trip to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. They traveled for weeks, mostly during the night to remain undetected. In 1999, they came to America, where Banak enrolled in nearby North Yarmouth Academy, diligently learned English and adapted to his new home. Now a sophomore at St. Joe’s, he pursues his obvious passionfor learning and plays on the soccer team.

Banak Thiwat

What made you choose St. Joe’s? And what’s your favorite part about being here?

It’s close to home (Portland) and where I got the most scholarship opportunity. My favorite part about being here is probably soccer, school and just meeting new people. Soccer really helped with that, like getting to know the guys on the team.

Did you grow up playing soccer?

Well, in Sudan, we didn’t play much. We didn’t have soccer balls, we made our own out of socks. When I came to America, I played for my high school.

Has it been difficult learning English for you?

No, it is not too difficult now. But in the beginning, yes. I only knew about two words, maybe how to say hello. The grammar was hard, but talking in a conversation didn’t take too long. It took me about one to two years to really learn the language.

Do you have family in America?

My father is here in Portland with me. I also have my uncle from my father’s side. My cousins also live here with their father.

Do you still have family in Sudan?

Yes, I do have family back there. I haven’t been back yet though. I had to leave my mother, uncle, grandma and a lot more of my relatives back in Sudan.

What is the biggest obstacle you faced coming to America?

Leaving family was a big obstacle, for sure. It was hard. I haven’t seen some of the family in eight years.

What is your major? What drove you to choosing it?

Sociology. It’s difficult, but I like it. I’m into helping people, and working with people, so this worked.

What is the most positive aspect you’ve found in America?

Education. It’s a great opportunity being here, being able to learn and go to school. It’s a blessing ... I barely had an education back home. If I can get an education, I can maybe go back home to do more for my people.

How have your experiences in Sudan affected you in your life now?

It gives me a better view of life in general. Here (in America) there is a lot of freedom, it is not the same there. People aren’t taken advantage of here like back home. It all gave me a better understanding.

I noticed you are wearing a necklace with a round wooden carving. Does the necklace you wear have any significance?

I have worked at Winona summer camp since I’ve been here. One little kid I took care of for three weeks was from Puerto Rico. His parents made it and gave it to me, kind of thanking me for taking care of him.

Do you plan to return home, or continue a life in America?

It is hard to tell now. Hopefully someday (I can return), depending on how the situation is there.