01/12/2015 11:00 EST | Updated 03/14/2015 05:59 EDT

South Sudanese Calgarians come together to ease ethnic tensions

Members of Calgary's South Sudanese community are trying to find ways to ease tensions among different ethnic groups as they try to forge new lives in Canada.

The fear is that simmering hostilities in their homeland could ignite violence in Calgary.

The Republic of South Sudan split from Sudan in 2011 after a long, bloody conflict.

But ethnic divisions, especially between the Nuer and the more numerous Dinka, threaten to tear the new country apart.

Thousands of people were killed when a new civil war erupted in late 2013.

Despite a ceasefire agreement, violence in the new African nation continues and millions of people are at risk of famine because of the disruption to agriculture.

Deng Luenth, who helped organize Friends of South Sudan, said he wants to bring his community closer together so the tension and violence back home don’t surface in Canada.

"I see it as a big problem and an opportunity, too,” he said.

Luenth says there have been disputes among members of the Calgary community, but nothing serious.

He says it's a big challenge to try to convince his friends and even adversaries that they now belong to one community in Canada.

“Some of them have been traumatized for a very long time and now when they're told that members of their family are dead, it just adds to the already existing situation,” he said.

“And when we learn that an enemy that wasn't supposed to be an enemy has killed them it's very painful.”

"I do see that when we talk about it we can be able to relate, we can be able to understand another person's pain,” Luenth said.

Calgary police officer Const. Jeff Munday, who spent years working with the city's African community, says he is confident the violence can be avoided and that Luenth’s group is making a difference.

"It shows unity on the part of the larger community."

Not enough participants

But not everyone in the Sudanese community agrees the initiative is working.

Khor Top, a long-time and high-profile member of the South Sudanese community, praises Luenth's efforts but says not enough people are taking part.

"I don't see any way moving forward because people don't show up. People don't come there,” he said.

“It's important because we are raising our kids to understand that we are a community, but not a community of South Sudan, a Canadian community.”