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We started our last day of the CONTACT program in Rwanda with a very interactive visit at Radio LaBene-Valencija where we met with writers, support staff and administrators of the station.  The station uses soap opera programming as a tool for learning and to promote positive change in Rwanda today. Radio Valencia was founded by CEO George Weiss and also has stations in Burundi, DRC and the Nertherlands with furture plans for South Sudan.

Eighty five percent of Rwanda’s population follows the soap opera that sensitizes people towards the origins of violence and how to resolve conflict peacefully. In addition to the radio program, the project sends grassroots coordinators from districts to the smallest villages for dialogue to identify the messages that the soap opera should convey. The scripts are reviewed by an academic team (including our SIT coordinator, Adin Thayer). There are a few cycles of changes and then the program is recorded, edited and aired.

The soap opera is so popular that when the fictional couple from the two conflicted villages in the story are to be married, the nation wanted to attend the wedding. The station could not find a stadium big enough to hold the wedding for the public, so in lieu of actually creating a wedding day, the programmers  asked Rwandans to dress up for the day and confront a person with whom they have conflict and resolve!


Next we visited The Rebecca Davis Dance Company, an organization under UNESCO, that offers therapy through dance to orphaned, street children in Kigali. Rebeccca was a Carl Wilkens Fellow and I had met her doing my work with that program.


IMG_3036She was not in Rwanda at the time but arranged for us to meet with the program director, Eugene Dushime,  and we watched the kids rehearse their leaping, spinning and sliding to the fun beat of African music.


This was one of the most emotional moments of the entire week for me and I could see my classmates cheering with teary eyes as well.



There is nothing like seeing healing through art in action! We then joined the kids in dance, shared chocolate and high fives. What a fantastic way to end the week!


After a wonderful party and closing at Eduard’s home in Kigali, I met up with Cory again and we left to catch the flight to Uganda. Here we met Gabriel Bol Deng and had the chance, after a year, to see his nieces and nephews again in Kampala.


IMG_3902Aluel, Adual, Deng and Akook had been students for the past 4 years in primary school in Uganda.


It was incredible to see their progress since last year. They shared their grades with us and we could see their pride and appreciation for their education.


Akook, the oldest, had just graduated from Primary school and went back to the village in South Sudan for 3 months. We were there for his return to Uganda and we talked about his time in the village.


We stopped by my friend Garang’s home to meet his wife and new child, Wol. This child of 10 months has the longest legs and hugest smile I have ever seen!



Then we took everyone out for a visit to the zoo, Lake Victoria and shopping for school clothes to get them ready for the next semester.


Heading home to the US, I am exhausted but so fulfilled.


I have learned so much from the people of Rwanda and my classmates from around the world. I thank my family at home for understanding and supporting my coursework, my trip, these kids and my desire to see them and learn about the history of African countries. I know they also would be inspired by seeing how the children have advanced here in Uganda. The kids sent letters back to the rest of my family, hoping and praying to meet all of them next time!


When we come out of our “container” sleeping quarters we are hit in the face with 110 degrees of humidity. We have respite when we are back at the camp along the Nile with a hot breeze but at least the air is moving, These residents along the river definitely have the right idea!

People in Juba wear long sleeve fashionable shirts and sport coats all day. Dignity in dressing is very important to them. Cory and I scrambled to find the best of our limited wear to head out to our meetings.  The more we had a chance to speak to both Sudanese residents and Sudenese foreigners the more educated we have become about the situation in Juba and the surrounding communitities and States. Sudenese who live in Sudan are extremely positive about the changes they have seen over the past few years. With paved roads they can now get from town to town when in the past a simple 1 hour ride might have taken a whole day of travel. I had expected the new growing city to be much further along in development but I have already learned that the tiny steps of growth like a tile ceiling or concrete wall in place of a restaurant under a tree is huge progress here. On the contrary, Sudanese foreigners seem a bit fed up with the lack of growth and development they see directly affecting the people outside of Juba.

After breakfast we met with Alaa, Program Coodinator for a maternal and child health training program associated with Mass General Hospital in Boston, where Cory is a nurse. Alla discussed ways in which they train front line health care workers in rural villages to provide emergency care during child birth.

The program works by village elders selecting those in the village most capable of administering the program. Due to the lack of literacy in most of Sudan they have put together a picture icon training booklet that will direct the provider in understanding emergency situations. The trainer is supplied with a package if basic medical equipment that can actually save a life during birth. They have trained 72 master trainers in 10 States in South Sudan who have reached over 700 front line health care workers.

Next we went to Roots center for Women’s Empowerment. Here we had the opporunity to discuss how a program training women to make jewlery has created economic growth within rural villages. The program works mostly within communities close to Juba but hopes to expand to include other States of South Sudan.

It was inspiring to see how the women were stringing beads using bamboo and other local resources. Women are brought to Juba in groups, trained in jewlery making in the workshop, and then sent back to villages with materials to work by themselves.  We will keep this opportunity in mind as we evaluate the business possibilities for the women in Ariang.

Cory and I were happy to support the women by purchasing a few gifts!

In the evening we were treated to dinner on the Nile by Gabriel’s Cousin and Director General for the Ministry of Gender /Child Social Welfare, Santino Majok Deng. Mr. Deng has been overseeing a 4 million dollar womens’empowerment program funded by World Bank since 2009. The program grants $400,000 to each of the 10 states in South Sudan for financing entrepreneurship for women. Groups of women apply for the grants. The women’s businesses range from sewing for school uniforms to agriculture and cultivation. The advancement of women is a huge priority in the newly formed country. Although the funding for this project has ended, Mr. Deng was extremely interested in The Sudan Canvas Project and our business initiative with women in Ariang village.

We also discussed the challenges facing the government, specifically the oil crisis, food shortage, border violence and tribal conflicts. I felt an incredible sense of committment to peace from Mr. Deng.  Although these issues keep them from focusing on the development of important programs, they are committed to peaceful resolutions to these conflicts.

We are so excited to now embark on the most important part of the trip, experiencing life in the village. We are leaving the compound in Juba to board our flight to WAU.  Hope there’s a breeze there!

Every trip starts with one adventure. Ours was Cory almost missing the flight from DC to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was prepared to go it alone and meet her there but she arrived last minute….exasperated…… and we boarded!

The Streets of Kampala Uganda are hot and crowded. Add in the smell of the gasoline and the bumpy roads and you’d wonder why anyone would choose to come. But watching the people lumbering by with incredible loads on their heads, whizzing past on either side with 4 to a motorcylce or seeing the piles of bananas, mangos and pineapples being wheeled down the streets makes the senses come alive.

Look up into a tree on the highway and vulture sized birds sit in their nests above your head and you know you have entered  an entirely different world.

We came to Kampala for the purpose of bringing Aluel, Akook, Adual and Deng to boarding school.  We spent the first day visiting, learning Dinka and of course, some art lessons.

When we arrived to pick the kids up the next day they were excited to show us how they had filled their sketch pads. Each small painting was more colorful then the next with subjects from the New President of South Sudan to the US flag, fashion and flowers. They loved their watercolor gift!

Next we were off to get them ready for school. Checking the packing list, shopping, and lugging…  no different from taking my own kids to school. The only difference was they fit everything required, and I emphasize “REQUIRED”, in a small metal trunk and carried everything up three flights of stairs on their own. One trunk broke so we pulled over to a street vendor, bought a new one, threw it in the van and continued on.

I might also add that these four Sudanese children, who were brought to Uganda for primary education in 2009, live alone in a small apartment to cook, clean and take care of themselves during their one month break. It was humbling to see how much they could do and how little they needed in their lives.

Gabriel left me at the boarding school to “check them in” while he and Cory went to find a lost bag at the airport. I chose that assignment to be with the kids and also avoid smelling fuel for 2 more hours. It took hours to get their  supplies checked in, uniforms ordered, bed selected, and money in the cantene. It was hard seeing their dorm room beds stacked 3 high with barely a mattress and side by side for rows; but observing their smiling faces and embraces with friends I new they were happy to be there and excited to be back at school.

Unfortunately many friends from Sudan did not return from break probably due to inflation and the food crisis at home. Aluel, Adual, Deng and Akook know education will change their lives and they will do anything to stay in school. They also have to stay on top of the class to impress their Uncle Bol who they know is the reason they have this opportunity. It would make a huge difference in America if  every child knew what it is like in a developing country with out opportunity for education. We are soon to get a real taste of it in the village.

After a long, hot, day of errands we retired to the hotel where I crashed hard under the mosquito net and quite necessary breeze from the fan. Wake up call for 5AM, for our flight to Juba, South Sudan.  

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!

Filmmaker, Jen Marlowe ( Darfur Diaries), traveled back to Sudan with the men to chronicle their story.

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.

Garang Mayuol
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!!!!