Mading Ngor never made the choice to become a journalist. It was something he had to do.
While growing up in what would later become South Sudan, Ngor saw the horrors of civil war, including a massacre in his own village in 1991.
“It was a huge massacre,” Ngor said. “The village was obliterated. And nobody would talk about it. Nobody knew about it in the world. … I wanted to be able to highlight tragic events like that one.”
Ngor is being honoured this week at Royal Road University (RRU) with an Alumni Award. The award is a new honour presented by the university and is given to former students who have gone on to find success in their lives and careers.
Sitting in Habitat Cafe at RRU campus, wearing a fedora-style hat and looking very comfortable in his surroundings, Ngor seems a lifetime away from his difficult youth. But the real distance can be measured in kilometres, not time, as the struggle for basic human rights, such as freedom of speech, continues in South Sudan.
As a journalist in South Sudan, Ngor hosts Wake Up Juba!, the most popular morning show in the capital city. He has political guests on with a variety of points of view and lets his guests speak their minds, without censorship. This is still an uncertain concept in South Sudan, one that has put Ngor in danger before and has had him forcibly removed from parliament.
“It’s my obligation to fight for this country because if I don’t, then who will?” Ngor said. “I know the history very well, I know the sacrifices very well, so you have an obligation to the country, to yourself and to your family.”
The two weeks leading up to Ngor coming to Canada for his award have been among the most difficult of his career, he said. A new controversy over a deal with Sudan and Ngor’s usual commitment to free speech on his radio show has resulted in threats from the government to shut the show down. This has brought unwanted attention from national security forces. Ngor said he hasn’t been sleeping at home lately, just to be safe.
“I still know in my heart that that is what I signed up for,” Ngor said. “For good or for bad.”
Ngor first moved to Canada after the massacre in his village and ten subsequent years as a refugee. He went to high school in New Westminister until Grade 12, when he got a scholarship to go to Pearson College in Metchosin. Ngor then went on to study journalism at Grant McEwan University and eventually ended up at RRU, where he earned a BA in professional communications.
Through all of this Ngor knew he would return to South Sudan to work as a journalist. While studying at RRU he founded an online news site called the New Sudan Vision. He would do interviews over the phone and managed to balance his studies with his role as a voice for his struggling home country.
But he knew he had to go back.
“It wasn’t a choice, it was a necessity,” Ngor said. “Because I lost so many relatives and they fought for freedom, they died for the country and I always had to go back.”
Ngor said his experiences at RRU helped form the person and the professional he is now. He said developing the tools he needed for his work was an essential part of his journey and he is delighted to be coming back to Canada to receive this award.
“It’s a tremendous honour. … When I look back at my history, there is nothing in my background that suggests I was destined for something like this,” Ngor said. “It has always been a history of hardship, of suffering. … And to be awarded doing exactly what I wanted to do, and doing a service to my nation, to my people, to my country, is the biggest honour you can ever think of.”
Ngor is giving a lecture tonight at 7 p.m. at the university, in the Centre for Dialouge in the Learning and Innovation Centre. The talk is open to the public and free of charge.