Art And Culture

From Child Soldier to Peace Activist

From Child Soldier to Peace ActivistFrom Child Soldier to Peace Activist

Emmanuel Jal wants to start a peace revolution — and he’s opened a cafe in Toronto’s Moss Park where it can begin.

Jal Gua, which means “walk in peace” in the Naath language of East Africa, the cafe is the latest project in the former child soldier’s quest to create the life that was stolen from him as a boy.

An artist, activist and author he survived a brutal and bloody civil war in South Sudan that took his family’s life and, at eight years old, forced him to become a child soldier. At 12, he was rescued by a British aid worker and smuggled into Kenya, where he discovered his love for music, reported.

His memoir, War Child, and a documentary of the same name, both unflinchingly chronicled Jal’s journey from a child trained to use an AK-47 to award-winning global performer and peace activist. Four years ago, Jal immigrated to Canada and started putting down roots in Toronto.

The Jal Gua menu is inspired by his homeland. Most dishes feature an ingredient he created – a powdered blend of sorghum and moringa, two staples in African cooking.

Vibrant African art hangs on the walls alongside photos of Jal with the Dalai Lama, music legend Peter Gabriel, and actress Reese Witherspoon, with whom he starred in the 2014 film The Good Lie about the child soldiers of Sudan.

Jal calls himself an “accidental entrepreneur” who hadn’t planned to open a cafe, but says he now sees the value of the business among his many projects advocating for the children of Sudan.

Some of the cafe’s proceeds go to a charity he founded that builds schools in East Africa and provides scholarships for Sudanese war survivors in refugee camps.

The cafe’s menu embraces a “poor man’s” diet based on the basic nutrients of traditional Sudanese dishes.  As a child, he witnessed others die of starvation; now, he says food is one of his many paths to peace.  

“Peace is when my belly’s full.”

Next month Jal will launch a mentorship program at the cafe with Matthew House, a Toronto agency that supports newly-arrived refugees seeking asylum in Canada.  

“Success means surrendering yourself to a cause bigger than you.”

His advice for new refugees is simply to have patience.  “My past is ugly. My past is tormenting. But I’ve been given opportunities.  Now I can paint the beautiful future I want to see.”