Sudanese-born activist and former NBA star Manute Bol delivered a message to a fairly crowded Interfaith Chapel Tuesday night to raise awareness about his project to build schools in the war-torn villages of Sudan. Bol is carrying out his project through the non-profit organization Sudan Sunrise, a grassroots movement of Sudanese and Americans working together to assist in the reconciliation efforts of all the Sudanese.

Accompanied by the famed pollster John Zogby, with whom he is touring throughout the United States to spread his message, along with various University administrators, including Vice-President and General Secretary Paul Burgett, Bol stressed education as crucial to upward progress.

Due to the devastation of war and genocide, many southern Sudanese Christians have not been able to attend school because one has to be Muslim or convert to Islam in order to receive an education. Growing up Christian, Bol himself was never able to go to school. An American coach saw Bol playing basketball in Khartoum and convinced him to come to the U.S. on a basketball scholarship.

‘When I came to this country, I knew nothing,” Bol said. ‘After receiving the scholarship offer, one of my cousins told me I should go play in America. I asked him, what is America and where is it? After I came here, I learned that education is very important.”

‘That’s why America is strong, because of its education,” Bol continued.

On average, only two percent of children in South Sudan graduate from high school, and an estimated 85 percent of the population of South Sudan is illiterate. Bol said those who don’t finish school go home to no job.

A few Sudanese-born young men who are studying in the United Stateswere in the audience at Tuesday’s talk.

‘I want you to study, get an education here and go back and help the people at home,” Bol said to them.

Bol is determined to bring schooling to Sudan because he is confident that the key to peace in his country is an educated population.

UR English Professor Curt Smith, who helped organize the event, said that this spring he had heard from his friend John Zogby about Bol’s mission to build 41 schools in Sudan and wanted to help, organizing appearances at Rochester public schools, Rochester Rotary event, and the Interfaith Chapel. He thought the event was extremely well-received.

‘The visit lured a wonderful response by the Rochester community and University students, faculty and administrators, engaged in a cause larger than ourselves,” Smith said. ‘Manute was magnificent, warm, humorous, wonderful with children, empathetic with students, and a great athlete and humanitarian. I’ve been privileged to travel with Bush 41 and Ronald Reagan, campaigning: “Heroes don’t come bigger than Manute.'”

Despite the fact that more than 250 members of his extended family were killed in Sudan’s north-south civil war, he wants reconciliation rather than retribution.

‘I want Muslims who haven’t allowed us to go to school to come to the schools that I build,” he said. ‘I won’t do what they’ve done by discriminating against them. I want to change that in my country. I want to give my people education.”

Bol hopes that communal learning between children of all tribes, religions and races will facilitate reconciliation between former enemies and will pave the road to peace in Sudan.

Three years ago, Bol started the ‘Manute Bol-Sudan Sunrise Primary School” in Turalei, his native village. This program has since educated over 300 children, but schooling has been held outside under the shade of trees because there are no classrooms. Bol’s goal is to give children the chance to attend school full-time, even during the rainy season.

‘Last year, there was no school for three months because of rain,” he said. ‘I want to change that, to help people out.” In May 2009, the first three classrooms were built, but children have to carry their own chairs to school every day. The goal for the remaining part of the year is to build five more classrooms in the building, a kitchen, offices and quarters for visiting teachers to stay in.

Bol, along with others, sought financial support for his cause, which was well received by the Interfaith Chapel crowd following the presentation.

Barbosu is a member of
the class of 2010.



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