by Anna Wadsworth
Thirty years ago, a militia attacked a Sudanese
village, sending a man running into the fields to round up his cattle. His
six-year-old son, Daniel Majook Gai, tore off in the opposite direction,
fleeing for miles and meeting up with others who were struggling to escape. He
became one of 30,000 children and youths who fled the encroaching civil war,
hiding in forests and swimming across rivers to dodge wild animals and
marauding soldiers. Many children died from dehydration and poor sanitation.
Others joined the flood of young people who became known as the Lost Boys and
Girls of the Sudan—many of them orphaned.
survived and spent 14 years,
mostly in refugee camps, separated from his family. Then one day, a friend
announced that Daniel’s name was listed on the camp’s bulletin board, and that
meant the time had finally come. At age 20, he traveled to Nairobi and then on
to Denver, Colorado. And so began a connection between Saint John’s Cathedral
and what would become South Sudan. As several hundred Lost Boys began arriving
in Denver in 2001, parishioners offered tutoring, helped find jobs for the
young men, and collected furniture, storing it in an old warehouse until the
refugees found apartments.
the volunteers, parishioners Ray and Marilyn Stranske served as table leaders
at the catechumenate
where they came to know another of the Lost Boys, Isaac Kohr Behr. Isaac
eventually discovered that his mother had survived the war. The Stranskes,
Carol Rinehart, and other parishioners began raising funds to send Isaac to the
Sudan for several weeks to reunite with his mother. In 2005, Carol accompanied
him on the trip, and together they found his mother. They were followed in the
coming years by groups of Saint John’s volunteers eager to help in the region’s efforts
to reconstruct itself.
in the Sudan remained
dicey, and the groups had to be shepherded from place to place by the Sudanese
People’s Liberation Army (the opposition to the government of the Sudan). In
decimated villages—with no roads, clean water, or hospitals—the Saint John’s
groups met with the elders to ask about their top priority for redevelopment. Given
the apparent lack of basic infrastructure, the visitors were surprised to hear
that the villagers most wanted education for their children.
Isaac and Carol returned to Denver, they co-founded a non-profit organization, Project
Education South Sudan (PESS). For most of the past eleven years, Ray has served
as chair of its board. Born in Khartoum to missionary parents, Ray lived as a
child in the part of the Sudan that
later split off to become South Sudan. In more recent years, he has made a
number of trips there along with several Saint John’s parishioners and others from
Denver. Under his leadership, PESS has built four schools and drilled eight
wells to provide clean water in areas where water-borne illnesses flourish.
build new schools, volunteers taught locals the latex concrete construction
method, which requires stretching fiberglass window-screening over a structure
and painting it with a latex-concrete mixture. Ray said that he “had to import building materials,”
so on his flight over, he “carried rolls of screen and latex.” With a smile, he said
that he carefully labeled the bottles of white powder with mixing instructions
so they wouldn’t be mistaken for drugs.
present, PESS focuses on education for girls, appropriately enough as the
literacy rate of 16 percent for women in South Sudan is
the lowest in the world. PESS’s man on the ground is Daniel, who at age six
fled into the bush to escape the advancing militia. Because of PESS’s work,
young women who have never before held a pencil learn to read and write. The
government-sponsored schools in South Sudan don’t always pay teachers, who
consequently show up for work sporadically. For this reason, most of PESS’s
funds now support scholarships for girls to attend private school.
often discourage education of girls, preferring them to cook, haul water, and work at household chores.
When girls come home from school in the afternoon, they are expected to attend
to these chores. Darkness comes early in the evening, and without electricity,
students can’t complete homework at night. To address the problem, PESS hires
teachers who offer after-school tutoring. To encourage girls to stick with
their schooling, PESS sends them to a monthly discussion group on global
awareness, where they receive leadership training and peer support.
Each fall, Daniel returns to Denver
to report on progress at a large fundraising gathering for PESS. At other times
during the year, the organization offers free educational events to the public
to promote awareness of South Sudan. Meanwhile, PESS’s work in the world’s
youngest country continues despite alarming circumstances there. Tribal warfare
prevails, threatening genocide, and in parts of South Sudan, severe famine is
rampant. More than 4.9 million people, almost half of the country’s
need food assistance.
You Can Help
your organizational skills to help Project Education South Sudan with fundraising,
accounting, or communications, especially by establishing a presence on social
media. For more information, contact Ray Stranske (email@example.com).
the free panel discussion addressing human rights and the threat of genocide from 6:30 to 8 pm on April 11 at Denver
University, Sie Complex, Maglione Hall. Panelists are Ken Scott, UN
Commissioner on Human Rights in South Sudan; Pa’gan Amum Okiech, South Sudan’s
chief negotiator with the Sudan on post-independence issues; Tamara Banks, Emmy
Award–winning journalist; and Ved Nanda, who writes for The Denver Post
and directs the Center for International Law at Denver University. DU’s Korbel School of International
Studies will co-sponsor the event with PESS.
your members of Congress. The Episcopal Public Policy Network has made an
appeal for Episcopalians to ask Congress to provide funding to help address the
food crisis in South Sudan. Watch a recent report on famine in South Sudan
available at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/fighting-south-sudan-famine/, then make a call or write an
email. Your members’ websites allow you to submit your own message:
Senator Michael Bennet Senator Cory Gardner
If you live in the city of Denver,
your member in the House of Representatives is:
Representative Diana DeGette
Help Address Famine in South Sudan,” available at episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2017/03/03/eppn-help-address-famine-in-south-sudan.
National Public Radio, “He Fled Sudan and Made a New Life in the U.S. So Why
Go Back?” July 9, 2015. http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/07/09/420905804/he-fled-sudan-and-made-a-new-life-in-the-u-s-so-why-go-back