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May 20, 2011

Lost Boys find support at U of C

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Three Southern Sudanese refugees spoke about the progress their nonprofit organization has made, and the challenges it still faces in the war-torn village of Malualkon, Wednesday night in the McCormick Tribune Lounge.

William Mou, Mayar Bona, and Malith Arrik Ajak, ranking members of the nonprofit Lost Boys Rebuilding Southern Sudan (LBRSS), spoke to students in Partnership for the Advancement of Refugee Rights (PARR), an RSO and major benefactor of LBRSS.

LBRSS is a nonprofit organization that aims to build high schools in Southern Sudan.

The term “lost boys” refers to Sudanese refugees displaced by the decades-long civil war that began in 1983. A group of lost boys founded the organization in 2006 after a tentative peace agreement passed a year earlier.

PARR, which has partnered with LBRSS since its founding, donated $12,000 to the organization in 2008—the largest donation that LBRSS has received as of yet.

The money came from the University’s Darfur Action and Education Fund, established in 2007 amid a flurry of student protests against the U of C’s investments in companies tied to the Sudanese government. Though the administration chose not to divest from the companies in question, the Board of Trustees established the $200,000 fund with a personal donation from then-Board Chairman James Crown.

Fourth-year and PARR President Liz Kerr said she has been impressed with the U of C’s openness to the cause, noting that many of the 30 or so attendees at the talk were new faces.

LBRSS representatives thanked PARR and the University for helping them financially and strategically. The representatives said that the building foundation for one school has already been laid, and they are in the process of recruiting local villagers to construct the rest of the building. They have also bought two brickmaking machines and constructed four latrines.

“We never had that opportunity to study in school,” Mou, LBRSS’s chairman, said.

Personal anecdotes about their experiences in Sudan led to a deeper understanding for students about where the money went.

“A lot of times with these things, you don’t have a clear sense of what is going on. With NGOs, they reappropriate money,” fourth-year and PARR member Anna Alekseyeva said.

Alekseyeva also said that donating the money to LBRSS was a good strategy because the NGO’s employees have roots in Sudan and are familiar with the cultural and political dynamics of the country.

“[That] they’re not outsiders coming into a foreign environment but are actually in that environment is a really great thing. I’m really happy that we are able to promote that--not necessarily giving money to an American NGO with a bunch of Americans,” Alekseyeva said.

Bona, the secretary of finance for LBRSS, said students will enroll on a first come, first serve basis and the first year’s tuition will be free. After several years, when people have found employment, Bona said that they may charge tuition.

Malualkon is a small village in the North Bahra al Ghazal region of Southern Sudan. According to Bona, there was never a school in the region, even before the war, and the closest school to the one they are constructing right now is 30 miles away and was constructed by another NGO.

“Most of the people in that area are illiterate. Most of them have never been to school for the whole of their lives,” Bona said.

With many educated Sudanese having fled the country, finding qualified teachers for the school has proven a challenge

“Some people are educated in Sudan. Some people are educated in Kenya or in Uganda. We need people who are quick learners, to catch up to the [Sudanese] education curriculum,” Bona said. LBRSS plans to seek help from other NGOs and government agencies in its recruiting efforts.

The Harrington College of Design in Chicago designed the school with the approval of LBRSS’s board, Bona said.

“Right now we don’t have much knowledge about Sudanese architecture. Harrington had a lot of people who already study African design. They came up with an idea. It was really a legitimate idea, good idea,” Bona said.

For Ajak, LBRSS’s vice-secretary of finance, this school will provide educational possibilities he never envisioned as a child. As a child, he only envisioned working with livestock, as that was the reigning occupation.

“Other generations can wake up in the morning, not to go to the cows, but to school,” he said.

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