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Social Justice Series brings ‘Lost Boy of Sudan’ to campus

November 20, 2008

UW-River Falls’ Social Justice Series (SJS) will be drawing attention to the humanitarian crisis in Africa through a lecture by a “Lost Boy,” Benjamin Ajak.

The purpose of Ajak’s lecture is to give students background of the ongoing issues in Africa’s largest country, Sudan.

“We are hoping to raise awareness and appreciation for the life of those suffering in Africa,” Anna Hunter, student events manager, said in an e-mail interview.

Ajak co-authored the book “They Poured Fire on us From the Sky,” which describes his experiences when the civil war, which started in 1980s, drove an estimated 20,000 young boys from their families and villages in southern Sudan.

More than half died walking more than 1,000 miles to Ethiopia to escape death or induction into slavery and the northern army, according to the International Rescue Committee Web site. 

Aid workers coined the term “Lost Boys of Sudan” in reference to Peter Pan’s fictional band of orphans. The media continued to use it to describe the survivors, most of who ended up in a refugee camp in Kenya.

Sudan has the world’s largest population of internally displaced people—approximately 4 million—created during more than 20 years of conflict between the government of Sudan in the north and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the south, according to the U.S. State Department’s Web site.

An estimated 600,000 people were forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries.

Effective collaboration between the numerous cultures in Sudan is a major political challenge.

Three years after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the government of Sudan and SPLA in January 2005, the situation in Sudan remains fragile.

The sustainable peace between the north and south that the CPA seeks to build has been compromised by the crisis in Darfur, a northwestern region of Sudan, according to a report to the U.N. Security Council by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in July 2008.

More than 1.5 million people in Darfur remain homeless, hungry and vulnerable to violent attack, according to the nonprofit Network for Good Web site.
Awareness is a key step to understanding issues that affect others people in different parts of the world.

“I think it is important for people to go to this lecture because the things that go on in Africa are not as well known,” Diversity Awareness Chair Brad Kernschner said in an e-mail interview.  “The media tends to report on places like the Middle East, so other areas of the world get forgotten.”

At SJS events like Ajak’s lecture, students receive a pin and a one-page information sheet, according to Amy Lloyd, leadership training coordinator. If students take the time to fill out a reflection form after the event they will receive a black t-shirt with the word “Ally” in red letters across the front. 

After Ajak’s lecture, DAC will be handing out Ajak’s book with the shirts. Both the shirt and book will be free if students fill out the reflection form.

“Our committee is planning on reading the book before hand and formulating discussion questions and topics,” Kerschner said. “We will then create a Facebook group that will have those questions posted.”

Ajak’s lecture will help give students an informed global perspective which is part of UWRF’s focused mission statement.

“[Learning about global issues is] empowering students to have a global perspective in order to make a choice of how they want to impact the rest of the world,” Lloyd said.

The SJS was formed this year to spotlight different events around campus sponsored by various committees. Ajak’s lecture is sponsored by the Student Entertainment and Arts Committee and the DAC.

The collaboration did not stem from a definitive event, but recognition of strength in numbers.

“[It was] a realization that we’d be stronger working with as many other like-minded groups as possible rather than just trying to do events as separate entities,” Cynthia Kernahan, associate professor of psychology and coordinator of the ethnic studies program, said in an e-mail interview.

Previous SJS events have included issues of free speech and fair trade. Spring semester will include the issue of racism, featuring a lecture from Tim Wise—a prominent anti-racist activist.

“I think that all of us [involved in the SJS] just want students to go away with a little more understanding of some of these issues,” Kernahan said. “Our emphasis has been on education and on allowing students to become more aware through fun and participatory experiences.

SJS is showing the documentary “Uganda Rising” at 4 p.m. Dec. 2, in the University Center’s Kinnickinnic Theatre. Ajak’s Lost Boy of the Sudan lecture is at 8 p.m. Dec. 3, in the North Hall auditorium.