Sudanese struggles hit close to home

By on November 12, 2008

Developing a management project is a standard assignment for business students in Management 210. However, a group of students
in Professor Robert Halliday’s management class recently learned that a run-of-the-mill business project had the potential to open their eyes to an international crisis.
It began when eight students got together for the fi rst time to discuss ideas for the project. “We needed a management project, it could be anything you wanted: surveys, a fundraiser, anything.just to prove you could
work together as a team,” Melissa DeSalvo, sophomore business major, said. “We started out trying to come up with ideas and decided that we wanted to do something fun, and maybe try to get involved with other students on campus. We wanted our project to have a cause.” As they discussed p ossible options, another member of the group, Will Flanagan, remembered the story of a fellow Quinnipiac student, Jurkuch Jameswal Atem,
known to his friends as “James.” Will first heard the sobering story when Atem came to talk to his QU101 class.

Atem’s story began in southern Sudan, a country in the Northeastern region of Africa.
He was born in Panyangor, a small village on the banks of the Nile River. He lived there with his family until the violence of the Second Sudanese Civil War between the Muslim-dominated North and the Christian-dominated south drove them from their home in 1987. He
fled with his mother, on foot, across orders in an effort to escape their attackers when Atem was just five years old.

“While we walked we survived by eating leaves, plants, fruits. Sometimes if someone could kill an animal [we would eat it],” said Atem They sought refuge first in Ethiopia, until war in that region sent them back to southern Sudan only to fl ee again, this time to Kenya. In 1994, Atem lost his mother when she had a heart attack in reaction to the news that three of his sisters had been kidnapped by the Arab militia.

At this point in his life, Atem was one of many young boys left alone by the impact of war. Eventually, these orphaned children would come to be known as “The Lost Boys of
Sudan”: young men who lost their homes and families to war. He lived on his own and took care of himself for years in the Kenyan refugee camp. While there, he attended a
very basic school. “There were no qualified
teachers, some of them were high school drop outs, they weren’t paid very much,” Atem said. “No one could tell me why education is good, why you should go to school. I was
doing it on my own.”

Finally, in 2001, the efforts of the International Rescue Committee brought Atem, along with about 4,000 “Lost Boys” to the United States. Once here, they settled in cities across the country, and Atem was placed in the New Haven area. Here, he was able to attend a high school program through the University of Bridgeport. After receiving his high school diploma in 2002, he attended Gateway Community College, where
he earned his associate’s degree in 2007. He now attends Quinnipiac, where he is working towards a degree in History and Legal Studies.

His dream is to someday enter Law School, as it is his hope that he will be able to use his education to help thepeople of his homeland. Throughout his time in the U.S., Atem has also been working to earn income, most of which he sends back to his father
in the Sudan, who he has not seen in over twenty years.

Atem’s story left a deep impact on Flanagan, and when the other members of the group heard
the tale, they agreed.

“We originally thought it would be a good idea to have a fundraiser, we really wanted to do a volleyball tournament, and all the proceeds would go to James and his family,” DeSalvo said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t get any space in the Rec center, so it didn’t
seem like that would work.”

“Originally we wanted to donate to his family, but he [Atem] is very selfl ess. He wanted to raise awareness about the situation in his country rather than raise money for himself,” said Flanagan.

With this in mind, the group redirected their efforts towards a campaign to spread knowledge about the situation in the Sudan. Atem had already begun these efforts, mostly
through his non-profi t organization, Seeds of New Sudan and Friends. The organization’s Web site is Atem’s attempt to spread awareness about his story, as well as the stories of other “Lost Boys” like him. His
goal is to call attention to the poor quality of life in his homeland, and hopefully inspire his American and International friends to contribute to the cause. Atem has lofty goals for SONS.

“Usually when [a] farmer plant[s] and harvest[s] his or her garden, there [are] always seeds to be put aside for the next season.
Therefore, we the Lost Boys of Sudan are [those] seeds. That why I call myself [a] seed of a New Sudan. We are the new generation that will bring hope to a people
who have been persecuted and been denied to have. rights and human dignity in their own
country. We will be the bridge that will connect the world with Sudanese people who have been persecuted by brutal regime for
a long period of time without knowing the benefi t of freedom, equality and liberty,” Atem said in a message about his mission.

With the help of friends here in the United States, Atem hopes to be able to expand his
organization enough to make a significant change in the Sudan. One day, he dreams of building a University in the region, named
for John Garang, one of the heroes of Atem’s people. He would also like to build an African Heritage Museum in the Sudan.
“So that the people [of southern Sudan] can come together for the first time to celebrate their culture, which was destroyed by our attackers,” says Atem.

Unfortunately, Atem is having diffi culty getting his organization off the ground. The
business students chose to create a project which would help Atem by spreading awareness fi rst among the Quinnipiac student body.
“For one thing, James’ website is almost empty. He really needs the help of students who are willing and who know how to do things like manage a website, so that he can
turn it into something where people can go to really learn about his story,” said DeSalvo. “Our project is to spread the word about James here on campus, so that we can do a better job of spreading it around the
world. We really need people who want to help.” The students hope to be able to network with others, in order to put together a sort of team that can help improve the resources for Seeds of New Sudan. Anyone who wants to help by sharing their ideas or expertise can do so by contacting Melissa DeSalvo, Will Flanagan, or
any of the other members of their group, who can put them in contact with Atem himself.
“James seems really happy to have us working on his side. When you hear him tell his story, it really hits you,” DeSalvo said. “I really think other students will want to
help any way they can.”


About Ashley Whelan