A San Leandro school brings home closer for Bay Area Sudanese

Students at SANC School in 2010. http://www.sancnet.org/

Many of the families in the East Bay bring their children together to learn about the Sudan behind the headlines – the Arabic language, arts and cultural traditions, and to connect as a Sudanese-American generation. This school is organized by the Sudanese Association of Northern California.

KALW's Hana Baba helped produce a story about the school, which originally aired on an online radio program called the Sudan Radio Project. Reporter Chelsea Davis brings us the story.

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CHELSEA DAVIS: It's around eleven o'clock on a Sunday morning and the school-wide assembly is just getting started. Dozens of students, parents and teachers join their voices together as they call out traditional greetings and words of thanksgiving in Sudanese Arabic. Soon they will share community announcements and sing the Sudanese national anthem together.

All of this would be pretty par for the course if we were in Khartoum. But this particular gathering isn't actually taking place in Sudan, or anywhere near it. In fact, the setting is over 8,000 miles away from Sudan in the Northern Californian suburb of San Leandro. This is the site for a Sunday school program where local Sudanese immigrants bring their children to learn about their far-off home country's language and culture.

MANAL OMAR: This is the first goal for our school: to have the kids know what they inherit from their parents and grandparents such as histories, values and social life.

That was Manal Omar. She founded the school back in 2006. She got the idea for the program through her involvement in the Sudanese Association of Northern California, or SANC, where she serves as the officer in charge of women's and children's affairs.

OMAR: One of our missions as a Sudanese Association is to help our kids to get along with each other here in the United States. This is one of the most important goals for the school. At the beginning, teaching Arabic and culture, we found that the school had different benefits. The kids socialize with each other and get along with each other. They start knowing who's a Sudanese kid around the area.

Most of the 65 children at the school have only been to Sudan for brief visits, if at all, and many are learning Sudanese Arabic as a second language. It's a challenge that demands serious effort of students, parents and teachers alike.

HASHIM SALEH: Sometimes it's really very hard to explain because there is a whole kind of culture behind a word.

Hashim Saleh is one of the SANC school's volunteer Arabic teachers.

SALEH: And it's not just, you know, the surface meaning of the words. You have to, kind of, bring the whole context. And it's hard to do this with kids who are completely detached from that kind of thing. Their interest and the things they do here have nothing to do with that.

Also a teacher by profession, Hashim says he enjoys volunteering for Manal's program because he loves working with children. According to Manal it's really that inter-generational connection, the collaboration between adult Sudanese and their children, that makes the school work.

OMAR: The biggest challenge to running the school starts with the funds – good thing the parents were very helpful on that. You know the good thing about being in the school, or before that, to be in the Sudanese Association of Nothern California, is you feel like you have your own, your country, small country, here in the Bay Area. You have a small Sudan here in the Bay Area. To have the Sudanese community get along with each other, socialize with each other, celebrate their different occasions together.

Although she knows that Sudanese in the Bay Area have grown closer because of the school, Manal doesn't intend to keep the program confined to only that audience.

OMAR: In the future we would like to set our program to encourage even non-Sudanese to get in this school to know about our culture, about Arabic language, about different values we have as a Sudanese community. And this is really my next step.

For now though, this San Leandro school continues to serve as an important focal point for the Bay Area Sudanese Community. Through steady song and togetherness, SANCS's program brings two very different and distant homes, Sudan and San Leandro, just a little bit closer together.

For the Sudan Radio Project, I'm Chelsea Davis.

MUSIC: Ali Saad Ali Productions “Azza fi Hawak”