There is so much that can be said but ill try and focus. First I want to thank everyone who has given of their time, talents, and treasure to help further the cause. And there IS a cause. Sometimes I get so caught up in all the crazy logistics that I need to be reminded of the "why". Why are we doing this?
This past Sunday we had the privilege of listening to Awan Ater, a Sudanese refugee and the chairman of Hope Sudan Charity Organization, tell his story. Awan has been in the United States for over 12 years. Like many others he had to flee South Sudan to an Egyptian refugee camp due to the war. He spent many years there and over time he was granted passage to the U.S. and eventually his family joined him. He was the first refugee we made contact with many years ago. From the very beginning he showed himself to be a man of integrity. Although extremely poor himself, he always seemed to lead us to those who were a little "less fortunate" than himself. He assisted in directing any relief that was brought to the local community. Over many years he proved himself a faithful man and a selfless servant to the local refugees and the Dinka worldwide. It was Awan who first approached us about going to South Sudan.
We first went to the Gok community in October of 2007. Everything that Awan had told us about his people was right on. This group of Southern Sudanese called the Gok Dinka simply stole our hearts. I will never forget the kindness and acceptance we were shown. In a country completely ravaged by war and indifference we found a people with an unmatched resiliency. From the Governor to the girls fetching water, Members of Parliament to military personal, everyone welcomed us with open arms. Awan's reputation allowed us to walk into a closed nation and immediately receive great favor. We came as strangers and left as family.
We planned our next trip for January of 08, this time Awan was to return with us. Due to his refugee status he had to travel through different routes to reach Sudan. I remember being in Cuibet and seeing him approach for the first time. In the U.S. Awan lives in the inner city, works night and day and is just as stressed as any of us trying to make ends meet. But in Sudan he is a hero, a living legend, one of the first ever educated, and a great teacher for many years before his exile. We were sitting in the Commissioners compound trying to hide from the heat and i saw him from a distance. There was an elderly man next to me who had the look of one who had endured much but who's eyes were as youthful as a child's. This old man stood to his feet to receive Awan with an embrace that did not end quickly. As these two men continued to shake hands and exchange words of endearment I began to realize the love and respect in their ancient friendship never ceased to be. It challenged me in many ways.
As the next few days passed we went with Awan to many villages all the way back to his "hometown". Nothing short of a hero's welcome. To call it a wild party would be a gross understatement. Another story for another time.
After the days of celebration, the trip took on a much more sober undertone. We had been here before but had not truly immersed ourselves in the culture. We began to meet with the local chiefs and listen to the desperate cries for help. Water, Education, Food... all the things that come so easily for us are ,more often than not, non existent for them. It was at this point we really were able to see the clear need for basic necessities. There are over 400,000 people in Cueibet county and humanitarian aid is almost non existent. There are very few wells, no secondary education, and the ONLY medical presence is pulling out in December. Is there not a cause? Standing in the midst of the bombed out structure that used to be a school and hearing story after story of the total chaos and terror of war, I could not help but feel a bit overwhelmed. What can I do? I'm just a wood floor installer from Kansas. What do I know about humanitarian aid? What do I know about rebuilding a nation? With all these questions plaguing my mind there was still a small voice that was saying "Why cant you change a nation?" "If you don't then who will?" It was decided there that I would do whatever it took to help these people. Awan is the one who birthed Hope Sudan Charity Organization, we are just coming along side to help him in any way possible. This vision is much greater that just the mission at hand. The delivery of this Land Rover is just a small step is the master plan to establish a community of agriculture and to create an economy so the local people will be self sufficient. This is worth sacrificing for. This is worth being exhausted over. We have a chance to alter the the future of a specific people for many generations to come.
I am forever grateful to Awan for introducing us to these beautiful people and for his heart to see this through. This is only the beginning. There is so much work to be done. If I think too far ahead I actually get exhausted. We can do this though. No, we must do this. We have been united with the Gok DinkaGok Dinka. There will be a day when water is easy, education is local, and food is in plenty. But until then, we have a lot of wok to do. Thank you all for your consideration.