Emmanuel Jal

Emmanuel Jal sits beside the lapping waters of Sydney Harbour at the exclusive Sebel Hotel in Walsh Bay, doing interview after interview, as a special guest of the Sydney Writers Festival [2009].

It is almost incomprehensible then, to hear this quiet 29-year-old speak of his childhood in war-torn southern Sudan amidst unimaginable brutality and depravation.

Emmanuel explains that he still finds it difficult to speak of these years and often suffers nose bleeds and then nightmares as a result.

‘I was excited about the opportunities to tell my story but I didn’t know there would be this level of attention,’ Emmanuel told Alive.

‘I was telling it through music which was easy. But now it is so exhausting as I travel the world, but I find that it’s working, it’s a testimony. And the impact it has, it is touching people’s hearts. And that’s what keeps me going.’

His name, meaning ‘God with us’, given to him by his deceased mother, provides a clue to how he survived being a child soldier and went on to become an acclaimed musician, author and activist.

Born in the early 1980s – he doesn’t know exactly when because all child soldiers were given the same birth date – he lived with his family in the villages of southern Sudan which were predominantly Christian and African.

First published in Alive magazine.

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