Abraham Awolich arrived in Burlington, Vermont, five years ago from the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. The former "lost boy of Sudan" graduated from the University of Vermont in December 2005 and is now co-director of the New Sudan Education Initiative (NESEI), an ambitious project to help his people in Sudan by building 20 secondary schools to serve some 20,000 students.
Awolich and the other NESEI co-director, Robert Lair -- a faculty member at St. Michael's college who has worked with the Sudanese in the Burlington area since 2001 -- are looking for 100 or more congregations throughout the U.S. who will take part in a special day of solidarity on World Mission Sunday, February 18, 2007, by inviting them to come and tell their stories and taking up a special offering to help NESEI begin their first school next spring.
The theme for this year's World Mission Sunday -- "Proclaim God's Wondrous Deeds!" -- celebrates the participation of youth and young adults in world mission and demonstrates to people of all ages the potential of engaging a new generation in global mission. The young volunteers of NESEI offer an excellent opportunity to explore this theme. If your congregation would like to take part, email Katie Hatch at email@example.com by January 15, 2007.
Since the 2005 peace accords in Southern Sudan, many of those resettled in the U.S. have been able to return to their country to find family and learn of the conditions in their former homes. They have learned of the great need for education. Organizations such as UNICEF are building primary schools, but the graduates have no place to continue their educations. Many leave Sudan. Lair says, "It is hard to imagine any place else in the world with a more desperate need for education."
NESEI can provide a focus, says Lair, for the 25,000 Sudanese scattered in some 43 cities in the U.S. who want to contribute to the rebuilding of their devastated country. The goal of NESEI is to have a large-scale impact "to build 20 schools to educate leaders who can create a culture of social entrepreneurship," he said. "We believe this is the key to peace in Southern Sudan. If there is no peace in Southern Sudan, there will be no peace in Darfur."
NESEI is now raising funds to begin its first school projects and build up sufficient liquid assets to make the effort attractive to foundations. The 20 schools will include seven flagship schools with specialties in areas such as health sciences, business development, education and government and international studies. The remaining 13 will be smaller rural schools. All will be full-scale boarding schools. Among the priorities are education for girls and war orphans and programs for child soldiers.
Vermont Bishop Thomas Ely notes that Sudanese now in the U.S. will serve as project managers for the new schools. "They could stay in Vermont and get good jobs -- they have degrees in many subjects," he said. "The commitment they are making is so inspiring."
Supporting the work of NESEI is one way congregations and individuals can respond to the strong call of General Convention to commit the church at all levels to the achievement of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. Goal 3, the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women, is a significant aim of NESEI's secondary education program, and the graduates of their schools will be equipped to lead Sudan in achieving many of the other goals.
For more information about NESEI, visit http://www.NESEI.org.