On Friday, December 2, 2005, the Southern Sudan Education Project (SSEP) held a banquet and fundraiser at the Utah Multicultural Center in Salt Lake City. The keynote speaker for the event was Manute Bol— best known as the “Tallest man in the world.”
Through my work with the Domes For the World Foundation (DFTW), I have had the privilege of getting to know Kristy Swapp and Abraham Gai, founders of the SSEP. Kristy is from Utah and Abraham is one of the original “Lost Boys” of Sudan.
The long-term goals of the SSEP are large. They will work in conjunction with the DFTW and aid organizations, providing education opportunities for children and training locals in building EcoShells for many uses, including homes and schools. This will give villages their own trade and provide disaster-resistant, bug-proof shelters during their transition into fully self-supporting communities continues.
As it is now, the standard mud huts they live in have to be rebuilt every year and provide no protection from termites, spiders or the elements.
On the other hand, an EcoShell can be built cheaply and efficiently. Introduction of EcoShell technology could significantly raise the standard of living in Sudan.
The SSEP has many clever ideas for enticing children into school. For example, they plan to have a grain mill installed as an incentive for young girls to attend, who would normally have to spend four or five hours a day grinding grain by hand.
SSEP’s short-term, immediate goal is building a school in Abraham’s village. This needs to be done immediately. Hence, last week’s fundraiser was put together and was an exciting event.
Abraham invited Manute Bol to speak at the fundraiser just weeks before and was pleasantly surprised by Bol’s immediate acceptance. In July 2004 Bol suffered a near-fatal car crash. He was in a coma for three weeks and bedridden for more than eight months. Bol is still in great pain, but as he explained at the banquet, he thinks it is of utmost importance not to forget about his people and his country.
Bol has led an extraordinary life. The 7’7" Dinka tribesman was plucked from a cattle camp in Sudan and thrust into the limelight, playing for eleven years in the NBA. He set the league record with 397 blocked shots in his rookie season. He has spoken on behalf of his people before the US Congress and helped to broker a peace treaty to end a civil war.
During his speech on December 2, Bol told us that in 1995 there were only 38 Sudanese in America; now there are more than 200,000. He thanked Abraham again and again for not forgetting about his home, for putting himself through school here, and for returning to Sudan to help his family and village.
The “Lost Boys” look to Bol as a hero. During his years in the NBA, Bol donated most of his income to help Sudan. Now he tirelessly encourages government and business leaders to emphasize education in Southern Sudan.
Bol advised everyone at the banquet to look to the US for inspiration. He stated that Southern Sudan is still a land of many tribes; but in the US, while there are many “tribes,” when something bad happens everybody comes together as one tribe to fight for what they believe is right.
Dinner was catered by local Sudanese and the food was delicious! (About 3,000 Sudanese live in Utah.) A silent auction was also held.
Bol and I talked for some time before the banquet. His interest in promoting the use of EcoShells in Sudan is high. He said he has been trying to find funding to build a practice basketball court for his village as well as others across the south. He believes constructing EcoShells may be the way to accomplish his goal of building the practice courts and supply communities with disaster shelters during frequent tornadoes.
Kristy and Abraham are returning to Sudan this week to coordinate the construction of the school. Ralph Hooey of WYI is lending them the Airform and an inflator fan, and they are doing everything they can to find enough money to finish construction before the end of the year.
Abraham’s return to Sudan will be bittersweet. After 18 years of separation from his family and 4 years in the US, he finally went home and saw his family last February. For all those years, they had not known his status — alive or dead. He was able to spend time with his father and mother and siblings. But news came earlier this month that Abraham’s mother has recently died.
Our thoughts are with Abraham and his family. We wish him and his project the very best.