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Darfur Refugee Escapes Torture and Rallies in Chicago to Pursue Education

By Serena Dai | May 1, 2013 7:20am

LAKEVIEW — Guy Josif has been shot at by machine guns, tortured, beaten and imprisoned — all for just living in Darfur during the conflict in Sudan.

Through luck, good will and a couple of caring hearts, Josif made it out alive. And this year, he was lucky enough to get a student visa for college in the United States.

He showed up at Lakeview resident Tamar Shertok's door in January, ready to start an education to move on with his life to create change back home.

"I believe I have a future," Josif wrote in a letter. "I want to help my people make Darfur a safer and better place."

Josif lived with Shertok in the neighborhood until recently, and she's been helping him adjust to life in America. Shertok and Maya Paley, who lives in California, both sponsored Josif to come to the U.S.

The Darfur refugee arrived with just $15 in his pocket, and he can't work off-campus since he has only a student visa. So Shertok and Josif have been fundraising to help him pay tuition and living expenses.

On Saturday, they'll be gathering at Matilda's Bar, 3101 N. Sheffield Ave., to raise awareness about Darfuri refugees and raise money to help Josif. Already, they've collected more than $13,000 — meaning they're still about $20,000 short of having enough for Josif to finish school at College of Lake County, a community college in suburban Grayslake that sponsored him to come to America, Shertok said.

"He’s so determined to succeed; he’s determined to change the world," Shertok said. "That sounds so cliché, but that’s what he’ll say if you talk to him. That’s what motivates me to continue to help him."

Shertok met Josif while she was volunteering in Israel, where many African refugees seek asylum. She returned, and he stayed, applying for more than 60 colleges in the United States. Only the College of Lake County agreed to sponsor him.

Heartland Alliance helped Josif obtain a pro bono lawyer to help him seek asylum, the "biggest hurdle" for him, Shertok said. Now, it's all about raising awareness about Darfur — which Josif does by speaking at various events — and raising money to stay in school.

Josif no longer knows where his family is, or whether they're all alive. Shertok is the really the only person he has, she said.

"We’re in desperate need of help," she said. "He’s a real person [we] are directly helping. We couldn’t do it without the help of the community."

Josif will be at Matilda's Bar, 3101 N. Sheffield Ave., from 8-11 p.m. Saturday to tell the story of escaping the genocide and his goals after graduating. Cost is $15 and includes one drink ticket, with $10 going directly to Josif. Wine, beer and well drinks will cost $5, with 20 percent going to Josif. You can also donate directly on Josif's fundly page.