In July, on a typical humid and muggy evening, while enjoying a dinner of pizza and salad at the comfortable home of Annapolis friends, ordinary casual conversation turned to a serious discussion of the crisis of epic proportions that the news outlets no longer cover. South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, continues to slip further into one of the greatest human tragedies ever witnessed in modern times. In the meantime, the media has turned to stories about the Russia collusion investigation.
The discussion around the table became less discussion and more questions. How do we help? What can we do to provide relief?
The experts with us who helped answer these questions are Annapolis men who have personal links to South Sudan. They are part of a group who many have come to know as “the Lost Boys of Sudan.”
Many years ago, during the 1980s, before South Sudan became an independent nation, these men were young boys who were ripped from their families and villages by the war that broke out in the country, then known as Sudan. They were among the thousands of males, many of whom were just small children separated from their families, whose lives were instantly turned upside down when their villages were attacked.
They share similar stories. They were separated from their parents and began a thirteen year, one thousand mile journey on foot from South Sudan to Ethiopia, then back through South Sudan to Kenya. They ran for their lives and survived attacks by enemy troops, nations, and wild animals. After years of looking for refuge, they ultimately settled in a refugee camp in Kenya. Kakuma Refugee camp, still in existence today, became their temporary home and provided the opportunity to come to America for education and permanent resettlement.
Now these same “Lost Boys” are adults, and U.S. citizens. Many of them now have advanced degrees in medicine, politics and engineering, but they’ve not forgotten their birthplace, and are continually reminded that they have a responsibility to help those less fortunate. They are the ones who are expected to help lessen the plight of those still living in South Sudan. These men are devastated to see and hear that not much has changed in all the years since their fateful flights from home and ultimate emigration. They have watched the struggles as the world’s youngest nation attempts to thrive. They are concerned that now, when this new nation should be maturing, starting to sustain itself, and developing its political footing, it is instead being hampered and stunted by corruption and other worsening concerns. These concerns include not only famine and a lack of clean water, but also an inability to access medical care and constant civil unrest based on political issues. These problems are the continued focus of regular phone calls from friends and family members still living in South Sudan.
The young country’s needs continue to pile up, and are exacerbated by the United Nation’s funding cuts, which have been pushed by the Trump administration, and have come during a time of one of humanity’s greatest crises. The men around the dinner table in Annapolis are constantly being called on to send money and resources back their birthplace to help with the most basic necessities, like school fees, food, clothes and medical treatment.
To the question of how can we help, these survivors and crisis experts told us that the first thing we could do is help build schools. Schools provide stability, a sense of hope, building blocks for a future, a place for water food, and a place for children to be children.
The rest of us said yes, we will help build schools. The first schools we decided on were to be located in two communities. These communities were chosen based on direct contact as well as guidance from elders who live in areas where our consultants had “boots on the ground.” Thus, the South Sudan Hope Network was born.
South Sudan Hope Network, an Annapolis based organization, will provide assistance to affected South Sudan communities, in an effort to change the lives of children and families impacted by war. That assistance will come in the form of building projects and community renewal. This new organization strives to bring hope, in a time of worldwide crisis, to a community that has been under continuous assault for many years. South Sudan Hope Network will bring relief to those who need it most.
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Monica Lindsey is a Teacher, mother and political activist in Anne Arundel Couunty.