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There was a lot to cover in a small amount of time in the village. As our bodies started to acclimate to the heat and lack of food we began to get energized to interview and interact more directly with the residents in the village. You can fit alot into an “African” day. The roosters start to crow about 4 AM and the sun rises shortly after that and stays high in the sky for the nex 12 hours. I never wore a watch on the trip and it was amazing how quickly I was telling time by the location of the sun. We began the day meeting with the teachers and discussing educational needs.
We found the most challenging aspect of sustaining the school is providing enough incentive for educated techers to teach. Education of any kind in South Sudan is a rare commodity. The few that have made it through secondary school have usually left the country through a sponsorship of someone in the family or a foreigner. When they return they are far more educated than anyone in the village and perhaps than many in the country. Their skills are so highly sought after that keeping them incentivized to stay is a great challenge especially when their is no support from the government. They stay though, because they cannot afford to continue on with university education. So each step of the way they are back in a stagnant place. It is our challenge to to try to get teachers on the Goverment pay list, but even that the pay is extremely minimal. Gabriel Bol continues to advocate to the Ministry of Education to pay teachers and put an emphasis on building schools and sustaining them. We ended the meeting by presenting the teachers with pencils and sharpeners for the students.
The challenges are great in the new country and with so much emphasis on security and infrastructure, promises that are made to teachers are rarely kept. The other teachers we encountered have only a primary school education, still valuable in a place where so many are illiterate. Our challenge is to find way to continually train and reward teachers in the village.
I cannot help but mention the incredible understanding I now have of the time, effort and emotion that Gabriel Bol Deng puts into this project. During our trip he worked tirelessly to meet with everyone he could, get opinions from top level officials to teachers and residents of the village, to holding and caring for babies, small children and pregnant women. He also had the added burden of making sure that Cory and I were doing ok and I know that I could not have done this trip without him and all his incredible connections. His life is split between work and family in the US and work and famly in the village. Wherever we went, from Juba to Ariang, people greeted us and appreciated us and knew that we were friends of “Bol’s”. Having a complete understanding of the difficulty of his task made the trip that much more meaningful to me.
Next we conducted a meeting with Traditional Birth Attendants. These women have received this title from carrying the torch of generations past who have had the role. They have little to no training and care for women during birth using methods that were used centuries ago.
Amazingly, many women fair well and the natural remedies and processes used work in many cases. The difficulty is when there is a complication. There are no clinics nearby and, although there are cars and roads now available, no one has the means to use them. Women are carried on stretchers for hours in the sweltering heat to a clinic where there may or may not receive the care that they need. Clinics we visited in South Sudan store medications that were expired and not refrigerated when necessary.
Cory spent a couple of hours reviewing some basic health care for emergency situations and best practices during child birth. Training and basic supplies such as latex gloves and suction tubes would make a huge difference in preventing infection and other complications but they are not available to these women.
For two days I met with the group of women that run small business in the village. The businesses are extremely limited, most making tea or sell tobacco. Ariang and the surrounding villages have 10,000 residents and some of them do have small income that can filter back into the economy of the community if the goods are there.
The first meeting had over 50 women and was a bit overwhelming but the next day we gathered a smaller respresentation who could discuss the economic needs and current situation of the market in the village. Hope for Ariang’s Education project provides income for many who work on brick building and other construction aspects of the project.
The women explained that people are going to the neighboring town of Akon to buy bread and Chipati and felt that if they had the access to an oven to make these items that the money would stay in the village and provide them with a small income to help feed their families.
We discussed forming a coop wth all the small businesses to use an oven to make the new producst for the village. The ideas kept flowing and we left many options to evaluate. It was exciting to see the women hopeful and to know that the Sudan Canvas Project would be able to begin to provide for the fincancing of a project that the women would take owenership of. We explained that the purpose was to begin something sustainable by them, that they could grow and develop and that the project would be a partnership between the women of Ariang and the Sudan Canvas Painters and donors in the US.
The feeling of hope became palpable. Gabriel and I left knowing that we would be propelled to move forward with the project so we could make a small difference in the lives of the women. Knowing that making a difference in their lives directly affects the lives and health of the children and ther ability to attend school.
I have come to realize more than ever that the education project, health nutrition and sustainability of business are all interwoven to make the community develop. We cannot look at one alone. Cory and I ralized the importance of our advocacy work would not just revolved around discussing conflicts and the North but also putting pressure on the Southern Government to address these issues and invest in systems to move them forward.
Our meeting ended with some ceremonious dancing. By participating we showed the women that we stand in solidarity with them, their hopes and their culture. …and I know Gabriel got a kick out of it too!
As an artist and an activist my work goes in two different directions. Once in awhile, they cross paths. When I was awarded the Carl Wilken’s Fellowship I was charged with building community and organizing others to care about the atrocities in the world and particularly Sudan. When I think of awareness of Sudan, I can’t help but be reminded of the beautiful women, fabrics and dance juxtaposed with the faces of those who are malnourished, ill and hopeless.
What better way to depict this than through the expression of art
The Sudan Canvas Project is a call to all artists, beginning with those in my local community and state of Connecticut, to paint a canvas depicting either the beauty or the sadness of the women of Sudan.
The paintings will be donated for exhibits where they will be sold to raise money for trade education in the village of Ariang where we have been building a primary school. The new school, their first building ever in Ariang, will enable the women to have a safe place at night in which to learn a skill.
South Sudan will become its own nation on July 9. In Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof addresses the fact that countries that have empowered their women, turn around their failing economies. Although this project will not change a country, it will change a village, by empowering one woman at a time.
The Pink House Painters of Fairfield County Connecticut have enthusiastically begun to paint and many members have volunteered to help with our exhibits. It has been incredible to see the support for this project so quickly. The Fairfield Arts Council enthusiastically donated their gallery space for our first exhibit to take place on November 27, 2011.
CT paintings are due by September 30. Artists outside CT can submit paintings to be posted on our website and saved for a national exhibit in 2012.
Sorry folks. I have been out of the blogoshere for a bit and now coming back with a focus on some more serious and important issues than pillows. My blog today will introduce you to my friends Gabriel Bol, Koor and Garang and the documentary that chronicles their journey back to Sudan after 20 years. As small children, Gabriel Bol Deng, Koor Garang and Garang Mayuol fled their villages in South Sudan due to civil war. They became a part of a group of thousands of other boys with a similar story, nicknamed “The Lost Boys” upon resettlement in the USA in 2001.
In May 2007, Gabriel Bol, Koor, and Garang, now in their twenties, embarked on a journey back to Sudan to discover whether their homes and families had survived, what the current situation is in South Sudan, and how they can help their community rebuild after devastating civil war. The film has won numerous awards and been selected for international film festivals.
The next local screening will be in the Cape Cod Museum Screening room in Dennis. MA on August 18, 2010 . Gabe, Koor and Garang will all be in attendance. So contact me now for tickets!
Many of you may have heard of Gabrel by now. Gabriel Bol Deng lives in Syracuse, NY. He graduated from Le Moyne College with a Bachelors in math education and philosophy in May 2007 and finished the course work for his master in education in December 2008. He received the 2006 Distinguished Student Teacher of the Year and the 2007 Le Moyne College Social Justice Awards. With only a box of t-shirts to sell, Gabe founded the NGO Hope for Ariang in order to help his village build, maintain and support a primary school. That box of t-shirts began what is now an eight room school building in his home village of Ariang. Gabe is a huge inspiration to students all over the world as he spends his time touring and telling his story of hope and perseverance. He spent three months in Ariang this winter overseeing the construction project of the new school. Gabe continues to work on development for sustainability of the school including teacher training, food supply and adult education,skill development. For the first time, the people in Ariang have hope for their future.Koor Garang
lives in Tucson, AZ. He finished his course work to become a Licensed Practical Nurse and is continuing with his Associates Degree and hopes to become an RN. Koor raised thousands of dollars to bring medical supplies and treated mosquito nets on his initial homecoming trip; then returned to South Sudan to provide training to nurses working in a newly built clinic in Akon. He began the NGO Ubuntu to provide health education and services to people in South Sudan. Koor just returned from 45 days in Africa and an arduous trip to South Sudan to deliver medical supplies to the clinic in his village of Akon. Alone, he went through interrogation in many countries to convince people of the importance of getting hundreds of kilos of medication to this remote village.
He then made a trip to Ariang to take photos of the school being built there through Gabe’s organization, Hope For Ariang. Unbelievable effort Koor! Welcome back!
The building behind these children is the first school building they have ever seen. They have been attending school under a tree all their lives. Thanks to Gabriel, the people of Ariang and surrounding villages see hope for the future.
lives in Wheaton, IL. He received his Associates Degree in May 2007 and is continuing his studies in order to receive a degree in business management. On his first trip home to South Sudan, Garang realized that a clean water system in his village is a critical step towards preventing cholera and other water-bourne diseases. He launched the Lang Water Project and returned to his village in February 2009 to begin drilling wells. The wells have enabled young girls to begin to attend school for the first time as they no longer have to spend their day on 3 hour walks to get water from the dirty river. There have been no cases of cholera in the village since the wells were drilled, a disease that has wiped out many people there every year.
Garang is currently in Uganda where he is taking care of his the health and well-being of his family. He will return to Chicago in August and make a trip to Cape Cod for the film screening on August 18.
There is not a day that goes by when I am not amazed by these three men. They have found peace and stability in the US and could be satisfied to just live their lives and take care of themselves. But they do not sleep at night because they dream of a better life for their people in Sudan. They work night and day to make a difference back home while maintaining a life in the US as well. If you think of something to complain about today, please think of Gabe, Koor and Garang….the incredible hardships they endured and the difficulties they continue to face to make a difference for others.
They are the inspiration that moves me to make a difference while I am on this earth.
THANK YOU GABE , KOOR and GARANG. Never give up hope!!!!