Nothing can beat the power of philanthropy
In his address on Sept. 25, 1961, President J. F. Kennedy warned a union of nations that “mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” He was speaking of enormous dangers in a time of regional or intercontinental conflict. He realized war, in all its dimensions, can bring nations’ lifelines to serious distress.
Despite this call, some parts of the world, as we know, are in serious conflicts because of economic, political or ethnic frictions. Advanced and peaceful nations are focused on their economic growth, national debt, health care, unemployment, trade, immigration, gas prices and cybersecurity. There is nothing wrong with this domestic prioritization. But one does see a candid parallelism without foreseeable convergence.
As a young boy, my country chose a vicious war with itself, between Southern Sudan and Northern Sudan, from May 16, 1983 to Jan. 9, 2005, in a battle for a New Sudan for all. Consequently, millions of people suffered, fled to neighboring states, and a limited number, including me, were resettled beyond continental borders to the United States, Canada, Australia and other western nations.
Resettlement to the United States gave me opportunities that separated me from many who shared my background. I came to Vermont on May 31, 2007. I went to school, got a job and met people who are now my best friends and part of my family forever. I enjoyed the most of scenic blessings, from the seagulls following a farmer plowing his farm in my town of Charlotte to the humps of many hills and mountains in this beautiful state.
Surviving one winter after another has certainly been tough. My winter jokes are a constant source of laughter to my friends. Frankly, I never thought anyone in a right mind would actually work in winter. I thought people would buy everything they need, stock their groceries and lock their doors until winter was over to return to work or plan a vacation for their families. I was wildly wrong.
I found inspiration here in Vermont and always look for ways to contribute. I understand it is the serving tradition of this nation to welcome many people in abiding promise to protect humanity around the globe. South Sudan is one of the countries which emerged from devastating and consequential events to become Africa’s newest republic in a referendum in favor for independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011.
I couldn’t think of a better time to visit than when it was a “baby nation” with so much to deliver for those who fought for it. It was not until last year, just a year after my naturalization, that I got a generous vacation from my work to visit after more than two decades away. I was received honorably like a lost son who returned home from the far edges of the world with so much to share. Memories from childhood were rejuvenated upon seeing my parents, relatives and friends.
There are times in our lives when we end up on the lawn of the unexpected. One school, Lualdit Mixed Primary, in Jonglei State, South Sudan, is home to 315 students and a dozen teachers. It was established as a national initiative, spearheaded by current Minister for Information, Michael Makuei Lueth, Manyang Agook, South Korean peacekeepers and the Adumwuor community, to expand educational access in Kuoingo. Ten classes and one staff room were built through this wonderful partnership.
Today, this achievement is visibly threatened because of gaps in school renovation. Seven of 10 classrooms face imminent collapse if the school is not rebuilt soon. Fourth graders who were preparing for exams in one of these classrooms echoed the problems on the day I arrived at the school. Losing the school is their greatest fear. The location of the school is convenient and within walking distance of most kids’ homes. Every one of them knew they had few teachers, no books, electricity and library, yet they expressed no consternation except for the future of the school.
Parents and teachers believe this school is the most important investment for their kids, and it didn’t take long for me to share their stand. I returned to my home in Charlotte with the undivided mission to ensure learning is uninterrupted and students are not forced to walk long distances to other schools in town. My first initiative was to call my cousins in the United States for a conference meeting. We agreed and established a fundraiser committee, which later set our event on April 8 in Lincoln, Nebraska, where most of my cousins live. The venue was also ideal given the large South Sudanese communities in neighboring states of Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas.
Our campaign gained unexpected online sensation after I shared videos and pictures of the school and students. Many friends in Uganda, Kenya, United States, Australia and Canada accepted our solemn appeal, shared our message and donated thousands of dollars. We raised $36,700.62 in cash and $13, 413 in pledges from individual donors to support our mission.
This immeasurable accomplishment came through the hands of many friends and relatives who joined me to carry the banner of this project forward. It became astoundingly clear to me that nothing can beat the power of philanthropy. I will never forget the generosity and dedication of many South Sudanese and American friends in Vermont and across the globe for believing in this wonderful project. People drove from Syracuse, Michigan, Texas, Mississippi, South Dakota, Kansas and Minnesota to join the hosting leaders and great community in Nebraska and South Dakota to affirm the importance of this school for those who depend on it. The greatest work stood on the shoulders of Mr. Thuom Aluong and Mrs. Achol Ajak, my fundraiser committee chairpersons and their entire teams, for assembling a long list of contributors to achieve this incredible goal. We will commence on our school project in November of this year and finish before the end of 2018. To help with this project or to learn more please email me.
Dorrice Hammer, Shelburne
John and I have been asked recently what is being constructed at the base of Wake Robin’s driveway, off Greenbush Road. Since many people have asked us, let me take this opportunity to set the facts straight. The fenced-in area is not a construction site but a secure containment for trucks, diggers and construction materials. The real construction, of an apartment building planned since Wake Robin’s conception, is taking place far up the hill, in the trees. The containment site at the foot of the drive will be restored to its former grassy meadow when the building is completed.