from hope springs life

Duk, Sudan – a place of terrible memory and a place of hope. Muwt’s story began here, where will it end no one knows. By a extreme case of coincedience I met Muwt the other night at an African Culture Week student panel event. He talked about a group he was part of that was working to build a health clinic in their former home village. It sounded like a great opportunity for my own organization to get involved. After the event I talked to Muwt and found out that there was an art gallery event just nearby to benefit the health clinic. Since I had actually met the artist, who was putting on the show, a year earlier I decided to join him.

I knew Muwt was one of the many Lost Boys of Sudan living in the Lansing area, but I had not yet heard his story. The art was amazing – a collaborative effort of both the student artist and the Lost Boys. The art was created as a sort of art therapy project to help the Lost Boys express themselves as well as helping the artist express her emotions from learning the stories of the Lost Boys. As a child, Muwt lost his parents from the civil war between the North and South in Sudan which began over religious laws. He and other young boys fled so as not to be killed by the militias attempting to put down the South’s rebellion. The Lost Boys traveled across the vast deserts of Sudan, to the border to Ethiopia, chased away at gunpoint, back southern Sudan, to the border of Kenya, and finally into Kenya. This is a poor paraphrasing of the incredible tale he told so eloquently and I cannot hope to give voice to the difficult stories told by so many Lost Boys.

Muwt finally eneded with a degree of safety in a refugee camp in Kenya for nine years, until a group of Americans met him and wanted to bring him and some other lost boys back to the States. Muwt was set to leave for America on September 9th, 2001. He was caught up in the Amsterdam airport shortly after on September 11th. A defining day for the US’s foreign policy was shared as a defining day for Muwt. Lansing happens to be one of the top spots for refugee relocation and Muwt was assisted by the Lutheran Social Services to adjust to life in the US. Since that time Muwt and other Lost Boys have been brought into the US. They have gotten jobs at many of the area businesses and attend the local colleges and universities.

When they left Sudan the Lost Boys did not forget where they came from. For many there was no way that they could forget. Lost Boys have created organizations, written books, and given speaking presentations. The group of Lost Boys that Muwt is part of has started a foundation to build a health clinic in Duk Payuel to provide health services since any other medical facility is far away. A story of hope has given birth the a life giving clinic in an area of Sudan that has seen much war and destruction. From hope springs life.

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and the beat goes on. . .

i am about to tell you a story
of lives forgotten and an absence of glory
for i have seen the faces
of people who will never live again

and this is a mark of indelible pain
coursing forever through my viens
so i continue to tell their story and ask for help
because there is a great lacking
for solutions to write a new ending
to the story pending

because there they lie,
broken and dying
on the doorstep of humanity they are lying
waiting for someone to hear their cries
before another so needlessly dies
starving and forgotten
they know not what will become of their fate
in this terrible world of power, corruption, money and hate

on that bright sunny day
somewhere in the month of may,
i came across a drum
and that has made this vision come
as the story i am about to tell
is percussed from that drum’s resounding yell

i learned the rhythms
i learned the beats
and as i learned my sorrows increased
how can people be left to die
without a care
without emotion lost
without a helping hand
and without a hope?

this conflict is one from which we cannot fly
the beat goes on
and so many can no longer try,
to gain that basic right
in this world, that is society’s eternal fight.

and there they lie,
broken and dying
on the doorstep of humanity they are lying
waiting for someone to hear their cries
before another so needlessly dies
starving and forgotten
they know not what will become of their fate
in this terrible world of power, corruption, money and hate

power to the people
this movement flows like treacle
rise up against the institution
increased are the privileges of the western popullution
empower the oppressed and marginalized
why can we not make this effort prioritized?

progress is gained by change
and this idea alone.
this encompasses issues of a vast range
and our actions need to hone.
the beat goes on
and so many can no longer feel the pulse
the beat goes on
and so many are consumed by apathy
the beat goes on
and so many are no longer here,
this is what i fear.

stop. and hope.
when we work together we will be able to cope
joining our efforts we can change the world.
combining our passions we can shape that world.
believeing our dreams we can grow this world.
and the beat goes on
do you really care?
the beat goes on
share your story,
the beat goes on
bring your drum
and the beat goes on. . .

Alex B. Hill
written down on 28 February 2007, composed over the past year

beyond the tragedy, the hope of africa

Africa is far from being without tragedy, but when you look past all the blaring news article headlines you will see that there are many reasons to be optimistic for the future of African and its people. Beyond the Western media’s fixation with the African tragedy there is so much hope and joy that gets pushed under the rug. Why? Is it because there is an othering and the problems and issues are over there? Is it because there is no hope on the ‘dark’ continent? Is it because the West would rather not admit that Africa is ‘developing’ and is really doing well? There are plenty of articles in the news that would deter even the staunchest optimist. Most of Africa lives in extreme and absolute poverty. Crises in Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and a few other countries are far from resolved. The conflict in the DRC has been inflamed by its recent free election results. Uganda is moving closer to a peaceful resolution of its conflict, but the rebels have backed out again. There is growing tension between Somalia and Ethiopia. And now Chadian rebels are storming across the country capturing major cities. The conflict in the western Darfur region of the Sudan is becoming further and further from resolution it seems. The African Union peacekeeping force’s mandate has been extended, but a UN force is still being rejected. All these armed conflicts are frightening, but then there is also many preventable diseases and basic essential needs that kill more people each year. HIV/AIDS is a growing problem and has yet to reach its peak in Africa.

The first great example of African hope is the amazing diversity of ideas and cultures. The people are shaping a better future for themselves and advancements are being made. African culture is thriving. Before we, who are not in Africa, can begin to understand how to assist Africa we have to first understand the intricate links between Africa’s people, culture, and wildlife. Africa’s middle class is growing, African entrepeneurs are becoming more prominent and have incredible ideas and solutions to problems that they know and live with.

On the continent the advances in medicine, technology, and science are taking hold. I remember when I was in Africa almost everyone had a cell phone and could easily stay connected. Advances in medicine are slow to be adopted mostly because of their costly nature, but there are growing efforts to provide services. We all need to remember that Africans are not just vulnerable people, but also solvers of problems. They may live in dire situations, but they still have the capacity to run a more effective program that pinpoints the real issue, which many times Western donors miss. The greatest innovation that I have seen developed so far has been the PlayPump. Discovered and designed by a man visiting South Africa. The pumps are set up to provide children a way to release their energy on a roundabout and also pump clean water for their community. There is a wealth of children’s energy, but a lack of means to use that energy. The water pumped through play is then stored in a 600 gallon container with billboards promoting HIV/AIDS education and other healthy messages. These billboards assist in paying for upkeep and maintenance of the pump. No worries children are not forced to play or pump, they just enjoy playing and that helps their community to have clean water. Water-related diseases are the leading cause of death in Africa and the ‘developing’ world. It is estimated that two out of every five Africans live without a clean water source. With the PlayPump children are able to stay in school instead of getting water. Women and children benefit from less injuries due to carrying heavy water containers over long distance. Women can focus more on their families and children with extra time not spent on water fetching. Some women have been able to start-up small businesses to provide an added income source and more food for their families.

Beyond the calls of corruption, falsified elections, and conflict between candidates, there is an increase in credible leaders in African countries. The first woman leader was elected last year. Leadership is growing as Africans step up to help one another and show their fellow citizens effective ways to improve life. There has also been a venture launched by an African millionaire to combat corruption within African governments. Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese multi-millionaire, is offering $5 million to African heads of state who deliver security, health, and economic development to its people. The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership was launched on the 28th of November this year. This is obviously a very controversial idea and many have stated that African leaders that are oppressing and killing their people will continue to do just that. Mo Ibrahim has said, “The day we do not need any aid will be the most wonderful day in my life.” The award will be given out as $200,000 for 10 years after the leader is out of office, so that the African leaders will have a life after office. Secretary General Annan has thanked Ibrahim for offering such a generous prize, but many still remain skeptical. Keep a watch on this one, time will tell if it will be successful.

Along with all the innovation and advancement there is also a great opportunity fro those of us in the ‘developed’ Western world. Doing your research, finding a sustainable project to assist, and becoming personally involved in working for Africa provides so many opportunities for personal development and happiness. I can tell you working in Africa is a joy and an amazing way to self-actualize your potential to change the world. Don’t wait, jump in – each year that you wait is a missed opportunity, each day that you do not challenge yourself is a wasted day, each minute is a lost life.