A Day of Magic: Update #5

Published May 25, 2011

And I thought yesterday was a good day…

The morning started with an early phone call from Sarah’s contact who had invited us to visit his school. We skipped breakfast and waited in the hotel courtyard for him to arrive. The first to arrive was Michael, who, being cautious about us going out with someone he didn’t know, would accompany us for the trip to the school. The next to arrive was a monkey. He walked along the fence about 30 feet from us then jumped to a tree inside the courtyard. He climbed the tree to the roof of the hotel only to decide he’d rather be back in the tree. From there he made his way down the fence line and out of site. The next to arrive was the Vice President of South Sudan. We had to move our table and chairs because we were blocking the side gate where his motorcade would enter. And finally, Sarah’s contact, Gatwech Koak Koang.

Now unless you had met Gatwech in person, you might wonder why we chose to spend the day with him and give up an opportunity to interview the Vice President of South Sudan. This interview was a very real possibility as the VP was giving a talk at a conference on decentralization and Sarah had already met the conference organizer. We will never regret that missed opportunity.

Gatwech Koak Koang is a living breathing example of what one of James’s professors would call an “organic intellectual”. This young Sudanese man had made it his life’s mission to do at least one thing per year. Like produce a movie about women’s rights and domestic violence. And start a school on his meager salary for refugees returning from the north. And become the neighborhood chief. And work at an indigenous NGO that helps connect other indigenous NGOs to funding sources. He is 26 years old.

Let me describe his school. It has a roof of tin and walls of mud and bamboo. It has a dirt floor and plastic chairs but not enough to go around. It has no chalkboards only particle board painted black. Over sixty students attend this three room school, many of whom can’t even afford to pay for uniforms, the only form of fee requested (but not required) by the school. He funds the school from his own pocket and lives in a tukul next door. He could a afford a nicer house, but he instead funds the school.

If this were a “Save the Children Fund” TV commercial, the camera’s would cut to the girl with the snotty nose and flies on her face and ask you to sponser her so that she could eat. This is not that story. Instead, we interviewed Gatwech Koak Koang’s brother. An American citizen with two masters degrees in Business and Finance who came to teach for no salary. We interviewed the headmaster, a certified Ugandan teacher with a kind face who is living off his savings while he helps his friend grow the school. And watched as a hairdresser turned teacher drilled the numbers in a room full of seven and eight-year-olds. Gatwech met her while she was cutting his hair and told her of his vision for the school. She quit her job to help. While I was interviewing Gatwech’s brother, the UN was busy “disposing” of unexploded ordinance found in a large clearing near the school. “Disposing” for the uninitiated, means “blowing up” thus punctuating the audio track (and my chest) with percussive sound you’d have to FEEL to understand.

I am truly humbled from this experience, and even more than a little embarrassed at the scale our our project in Jalle. I’m done prognosticating, pontificating and otherwise editorializing our experience here. From here on out, I’ll let the people speak for themselves.

From the field,
Blake Clark, Executive Director

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