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American Students Sponsor Sudanese Scholar

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Students around the world have protested the slaughter in Sudan, they say some of it occuring at the hands of the government.  While supporters say these demonstrations have helped focus world attention, a group of students at George Washington University wanted to do something more.   The student group is called Banaa, which is a Sudanese Arabic word that means to build.   VOA's Brian Padden has this week's installment of "Making a Difference," about two students who are trying to build lasting peace and development by educating a new generation of Sudanese leaders.


For Sudanese refugee Makwei Deng, coming to America to attend George Washington University in the nation's capital is the opportunity of a lifetime.

"It was just like a dream," Deng said.

Makwei Deng was living in Kakuma, a Sudanese refugee camp in Kenya when he received the first and so far only scholarship awarded by an American student group called Banaa.  

"With the skill I will get from the United States with the help of the Banaa, I will go back, work on the legal system so that people," Deng said. "...instead of settling their differences on the battlefield, they could go to the court and settle them there."

Justin Zorn and the other student activists co-founded Banaa and brought Deng here, on the condition that leaders like Deng will return to work for peace in their native land.

"I grew up hearing about the legacy of the Holocaust and hearing about genocide before that in places such as in Armenia, Cambodia, and how we had an obligation as citizens of the United States but really as citizens of the world to stand up whenever genocide occurs," Zorn said.

Zorn says members of Banaa want to effect long lasting change in Sudan.  Through donations and grants they raised $24,000 and convinced George Washington University to fund the first scholarship.  Zorn says he hopes to offer scholarships at other universities.  For Deng, the work is more challenging that he anticipated and he is often up studying till three in the morning.  

"Depending on me, they will see whether it will be a success or a failure," Deng said. "So I am doing my best to give them the right image, of what the Sudanese are."

For Zorn and other student activists at the University, hearing firsthand how Deng and his family fled certain death in Sudan to his life as a refugee in Kenya has forced them to re-examine their own lives.   

Zorn says, "Working with students who survived this I think has given me a sense of the privilege I've had in my life," he said. "That I never really, although I was aware of it, knew it."

It will take years to determine what impact Banaa might have on building peace in Sudan through education, but through this first scholarshp, Justin Zorn and Makwe Deng's lives have already been changed.  

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