The Plight and Promise of Africa

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The Plight and Promise of Africa was an educational and global awareness initiative of Eckerd College in 2010.

Throughout the year WMNF reported on various lectures and community events that were a part of the college’s initiative.

Alizza Punzalan-Hall is the director of Community and media relations and co-chair of The Plight and Promise of Africa.

“Throughout the year we will be talking about Darfur in Sudan, the crisis and genocide, child soldiers in Uganda, sexual violence used as a weapon of war against the girls and women in Congo. We’ll be talking about HIV/AIDS infection, some of the tribal differences that cause a lot of these atrocities, but we’ll also be talking about the peace processes that are working. We’ll be looking at countries like Ghana and Kenya, places that still need work, but are models.”

In January, WMNF’s Joshua Holton reported on a photo exhibit in St. Petersburg that showcased the suffering in Congo.

Twig Metheny is studying photography and anthropology, and has been to Africa. She thought that the dark theme was important for raising awareness.

“It’s interesting to see people walk by the more gruesome things. But I think it’s important to take it all in. Things like this happen because we’re not aware. And the photography is amazing. Giant panels, taller than you are.”

Brenda McKnight is with Community Action Stops Abuse, a group that raises awareness about domestic violence. She said display of strong women was enlightening for her.

“To see what they’re going through and how they’re surviving it, makes my problems look small compared to theirs. And I’m having a hard time dealing with what I’m dealing with. And to see what they’re going through and they still trying to hang on, making me see how I can see I can deal and cope through all situations.”

In March WMNF’s Tom Baur was at the Mahaffey Theatre reporting on the sold-out lecture entitled From the Holocaust to Darfur: If We Had Only Learned Our Lesson, featuring
human rights activist John Prendergast and the Nobel Peace prize winner Elie Wiesel.

Hitler’s World War II Nazi war machine killed Elie’s mother, father and little sister. The storm troopers worked the 17-year-old boy to death but couldn’t kill him. He lived on hope.

“>First of all, I teach my students, I share with them, my passion for learning. I’m a teacher. The writer in me is a teacher, the teacher in me is a writer. But I tell them he is a teacher, and has a passion for learning. That is what I teach my students at Boston University for the last 36 years or so, or before that, at Yale and at City College of New York. This is why I love teaching. And then I will tell them that there is hope. Just remember, there is hope. And the hope for me is they. They are my hope. They are tomorrow’s children. Already, they carry our great-grandchildren in them. And they are capable, absolutely capable, of changing the world, to make it a better world: more welcoming, more hospitable, more human.”

Wiesel survived the Nazi Holocaust and has dedicated his life to combating indifference, intolerance and injustice all over the world.

John Prendergast, human rights activist and author, is co-founder of Enough Project, an initiative to end genocide and crimes against humanity. Prendergast recently sent an open letter to the Obama administration to help prevent a full-scale war from erupting in Sudan the coming year.

“The president has issued a new policy on Sudan, which is very encouraging, because it answered a lot of the things that the human rights groups and key members of Congress are asking for. But his personnel have not yet started implementing that policy. So there’s still a gap between rhetoric and action, between words and reality, that we have to chase very, very hard as human-rights advocates, to make sure that the administration does what it says—what he said—they were going to do.”

And in September this reporter covered the lecture with popular author Dave Eggers, who penned a partly fictional memoir about the real life of Valentino Achak Deng, one of over 20,000 young men, or Lost Boys, who were orphaned by the civil war in Sudan in the 1980’s and 90’s.

Because Valentino Deng was unable to attend the lecture himself, he sent his friend and fellow Lost Boy Gabriel Bol Deng as his replacement. Eggers asked Deng about his childhood memories of when violence first came to his village in Southern Sudan.

“I was about 15 miles away from the village. I got attacked. First thing I heard was the sound of a gun. I looked around and I saw the militia men on their horses and some were carrying guns. As a young boy I thought this is the danger that my father warned me about. He told me there was war going on in the country, but we didn’t know when it would reach the village. But when you see people on the horses with guns, that is a sign of danger.

“Before I head home, I saw smoke from the village. I ran for 20 minutes. I met people on the way, two men running away from the burning village. They tried to convince me not to go because I would be killed. But because I was so anxious, needing to inform my dad what had happened. But one of the men went to bend down to grab hold of me, and put me on his back, but he was shot in front of me. The bullets narrowly missed me on either side as I tried to roll over. What I did was to play dead, pretended that I was a dead child.”

Both Valentino Achak Deng and Gabriel Bol Deng spent months walking across the desert into Ethiopia hoping to find something better than the violence they had left behind in Sudan.

Gabriel Bol Deng: “If I go to Ethiopia, was to get good food. And then there’s no more shooting. It give me hope to work hard and cross the desert.”

Dave Eggers: “But thousands of boys and girls died along the way.”

Gabriel Bol Deng: “Yes.”

Dave Eggers: “And when you finally reached Ethiopia and you also spent time at Dimma, a different refugee camp, about the same size, 80,000 people. When you finally crossed the border, and they said, here we finally are in Ethiopia, and you’ve had these ideas. 800 miles in Valentino’s case, over many months. When you’re finally told this is what you’ve been walking for, of course it’s not banquet tables and accommodations. It was really just an open field.”

After many injuries and malnutrition, Gabriel Bol Deng thought about suicide as he was confined to his bed in the refugee camp.

Gabriel Bol Deng: “At that time I thought I was waiting for my death on the bed. But my parents appear in dream. My dad talked to me, scolding me. That because I was hopeless, I was not going to overcome the mountain. And in the dream, they told me to imagine to be the most happiest child in the world. At the end of the dream, they said we love you more than you will ever know. But before you come home, you need to be resilient and be happy. They preach that a small percent of your life, 10 percent, you can’t control. And all of you in this room, you control 90% of your life.”

Within a year of the dream, Gabriel was up and healthy, playing soccer with his friends at the camp. But then he faced more upheaval.

Dave Eggers: “Just when there was a degree of stability, it was Menjusto was ruling Ethiopia at the time, he gets overthrown in ‘91, and the regime change forced out the Sudanese at the point of a gun.”

Gabriel Bol Deng: “The camp was attacked from all directions. The only passage way was a small way to Southern Sudan. We ran, we arrived about 8 a.m. What I saw that morning was unbelievable. The enemy was shooting, and everyone women and babies, were jumping into the water. You will see more people than water.”

There were so many people, Deng said, that as many tried to swim across the river to safety, many drowned as they became entangled in the crowd.

Deng’s escape lead him to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. This time he wasn’t expecting to find anything at the camp, and he wasn’t disappointed. There was little food or shelter to be found there.

Gabriel Bol Deng: “I began to question myself more. What is the purpose of my life? Running from this camp, running from the war.”

He lived at Kakuma for more than a decade. Shelters were built, and the children went to makeshift schools. It was here that Gabriel Bol Deng met and befriended Valentino Achak Deng.

Dave Eggers: “When you started going to school and joining clubs, you were in the drama club, writing plays, did you have an expectation that you would go home? Hope that family still alive?”

Gabriel Bol Deng “Yes I still had hope peace would come to Sudan. Actually the drama club or the school, for me this was really where you bonded more. Also, part of the club is to skip hunger. If you are home, you feel the hunger in your stomach. But if you go and practice, in drama or debating club, then you forget.”

The Associated Press reports that some 2 million people died in the civil war between north and south Sudan that spanned more than two decades. On January 9th, Southern Sudan will hold an independence referendum and potentially vote to become Africa’s newest country.

Joshua Holton’s WMNF story

Tom Baur’s WMNF story

Dawn Morgan Elliott’s WMNF story

Eckerd’s Africa website