Individuals have the responsibility to address social issues in their communities, Gabriel Bol Deng, founder of the nonprofit humanitarian organization Hope for Ariang, said Tuesday night, following a screening of the documentary “Rebuilding Hope.” The documentary tells the story of Deng, Koor Garang and Garang Mayuol, who were all forced to flee southern Sudan as children at the outbreak of war. The three have since returned to improve the area.
British colonizers handed political power in Sudan a country of 40 million people and the largest country in Africa to Muslim Arab tribes in 1956, according to the documentary. Sudan subsequently suffered a civil war fueled by struggles for power and religious conflict, forcing villagers to flee to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.
“Arabs came and started shooting at us,” Mayuol said in the documentary, describing his childhood memories. “We were running and I was crying.”
Facing attacks from northern Sudanese Arab militiamen, Deng escaped his village in Ariang and lost track of his parents and siblings, according to the documentary. After several months traveling down the Nile River and across expanses of desert, he entered the Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya.
Deng, Garang and Mayuol were offered the opportunity to travel to the United States in pursuit of education as part of a refugee resettlement program, according to the documentary. Deng moved to New York in 2001, enrolling at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in math education and philosophy and a master’s degree in education.
In 2007, he returned with Garang and Mayuol to Sudan in hopes of reconnecting with family members and implementing social change.
“You are a complete person when you know what happened to your family,” Deng said in the documentary. “I’m excited to go back and help the people I’ve been dreaming of helping.”
After chartering a plane to distribute mosquito nets and medical supplies to their villages in the southern part of the country, the three “Lost Boys” of Sudan began projects to promote education, health care improvements and clean water management.
Deng, with the support of his American professors and adopted family, founded the nongovernmental organization Hope for Ariang to empower southern Sudanese youth, according to the documentary.
Mosquito nets and food only last until the supplies run out, whereas education and knowledge provide the resources that can improve their condition and decrease the prevalence of war, he said in the documentary.
Sudan currently has the second-lowest access to primary education in the world, with only 25 percent of children in south Sudan enrolled in school, according to the documentary.
“We have already lost a generation to illiteracy,” Deng said.
Deng returned to Sudan in 2009 to begin construction of the Ariang School and to oversee the drilling of six wells in the community. The resulting availability of clean drinking water led to a significant rise in female enrollment in the school, as girls no longer had to devote their days to finding and transporting potable water to their homes, he said at the screening.
The main goals of the project include increasing the locals’ involvement and raising money for teacher salaries.
“I wanted to make sure that people in the village got involved,” Deng said. “We worked together, we bought wheelbarrows, we bought the materials and we gave them incentives. Now the idea is, we will need to raise more money to look for teachers if we give them a good employment package, they will go back and teach there.”
Classrooms for the first four grade levels have been completed, and classes for grades five through eight are currently under construction, according to Deng. Organizers expect the new structures to be ready by the fall, Deng said.
“It is hope, it is hard work, that brought me to this level,” Deng said at the screening. “I hope the movie has really provoked your social conscience. And even if you’re not interested in working in Sudan, I encourage you to look back into your own community at social issues that are affecting us here in the U.S.”
The campus group STAND, a chapter of the national organization dedicated to genocide awareness, brought Deng to campus and presented the documentary.