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Africa’s newest country is born of a conflict that can be traced back more than five decades. Read on as journalist Brittaney Carter tells the story of how one Lost Boy is helping to put his country back together.
By: Brittaney Carter      Country: South Sudan

n 1987, Benjamin Akole was eight years old. Born in war-torn southern Sudan, it was at this age that he began his life in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya. Akole had lost contact with his family and everyone in his village, so he became one of four million Sudanese who fled to neighboring countries in hopes of outrunning the violence. He had no way of knowing it at the time, but he would return to his home country many years later to help rebuild what was destroyed during the civil war in Sudan.

The plight of the Sudanese southerners can be traced back to the end of the British colonization of Sudan in 1953. Although the country had been granted independence, British forces did not ensure that the new government would grant equal representation to all of its citizens. Because the population is split by religion and background, the mostly Arabic and Muslim north took control of the governance of Sudan, most of which took place in the capitol city of Khartoum. The primarily Christian, black tribesmen of the South called for a federal system that would allow them semi-independent control over their own region. However, the Khartoum regime refused, which led to the beginning of the first civil war just two years after independence. It would last nearly two decades until a peace agreement was created, giving the south autonomy in 1972.

It was an agreement with a shaky foundation that finally gave way just a decade later due to the discovery of oil in the south as well as growing pressure on then-President Gaafar Nimeiry to make the entire country subject to Islamic rule. Civil war erupted again in 1983, this time lasting for 22 years and creating a unified voice for the south in the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement and Army (SPLM/A). By the end of Sudan’s most recent political crisis in 2005, two million people had died.

While the political and humanitarian crisis raged in Sudan, Akole grew up in neighboring Kenya receiving education and aid from organizations like the United Nations. “When we were in Sudan, we didn’t even know that there were other countries that existed,” he said. “Until we came to the camp. We saw people visiting us and as we were learning we asked ourselves, ‘What kind of people are helping us?”

Akole’s curiosity about the generosity of those strangers led him to study Western culture, more specifically the culture of Britain and the United States. He listened to BBC radio to learn English, and that’s how he decided that one day he would be a journalist.

His chance would come sooner than he expected when in 2001 he had the opportunity to relocate to the United States along with 15 to 20 other Sudanese people who had been living in camps in Kenya. Living in a different part of the world and earning a college education inspired him and his fellow travelers to confront the problems of Sudan.

“After going to school, we understand the problems that killed all of us,” he says. “It was education [that opened our eyes]. Through education you can listen to other people and learn from other people.”

While Akole pursued his education, his country continued to pursue its freedom. Finally, in 2005, the war in Sudan came to an end with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The treaty arranged for a unified government that included representation from the SPLM/A.

A year later, Akole and his handful of comrades established Lost Boys Rebuilding South Sudan. It is a non-profit organization directed by a group of former Sudanese orphans who now live in the mid-western United States. Their goal is to help establish a high-quality education system in South Sudan so that everyone in their native country can have a chance to be successful.

Akole explains the inspiration behind the Lost Boys. “We have other people who are in darkness, like we were before. Why not at least do something to build a school back home so that they can learn, too?”

Last year, the former orphan returned to his home village as an educated man. Akole says he plans to travel back often so that he can use his skills as a journalist to tell people all over the world about his country’s story–and, of course, fulfill his duties as the director of public relations for Lost Boys Rebuilding South Sudan.

The South Sudanese celebrated their first day of official independence on Saturday, July 9, 2011. After nearly half a century of war, South Sudan won its independence not by war and bloodshed, but by a referendum vote.

However, independence comes at a high price. South Sudan still faces formidable problems in developing public services and suppressing conflict with Sudan. Looking to the work ahead, experts agree that while South Sudan has an abundance of oil, transforming the area into a developed nation will take some work. Among its major priorities, South Sudan must establish strong systems to deliver health care, education, electricity and drinking water to its constituency. There is also the question of a unified identity. South Sudan is a country of dozens of tribes, and of Muslims as well as Christians.

The Lost Boys are doing their share of the work. They will soon complete the construction of their first school, which has five classrooms and a well that will provide clean water for students and teachers. Akole is also hoping that the school can be a symbol of what the South Sudanese can accomplish in the future.

“Education can lead to unity,” Akole says. “We said that the school, too, might play that role. We have to play our role in telling our government that this is a part of what needs to be done.”


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Easy Summary

The troubles of the Sudanese southerners can be traced back to the end of the British colonization of Sudan in 1953. British forces did not ensure that the new government would grant equal representation to all of its citizens. Because the population is split by religion and background, the mostly Arabic and Muslim north took control of the governance of Sudan in the capital city of Khartoum. The primarily Christian, black tribesmen of the South called for a federal system that would allow them semi-independent control over their own region. However, the Khartoum regime refused, which led to the beginning of the first civil war just two years after independence. It would last nearly two decades until a peace agreement was created, giving the south autonomy in 1972.

Civil war erupted again in 1983, this time lasting for 22 years. By the end of Sudan’s most recent political crisis in 2005, two million people had died.

In 2005, the war in Sudan came to an end with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The treaty arranged for a unified government that included representation from the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement and Army.

Benjamin Akole and a handful of his comrades established Lost Boys Rebuilding South Sudan. It is a non-profit organization directed by a group of former Sudanese orphans who now live in the mid-western United States. Their goal is to help establish a high-quality education system in South Sudan so that everyone in their native country can have a chance to be successful.

The South Sudanese celebrated their first day of official independence on Saturday, July 9, 2011. After nearly half a century of war, South Sudan won its independence not by war and bloodshed, but by a referendum vote.

 

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Rebuilding South Sudan

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