In about two hours, Nyuol Tong, the son of a village chief from the newly formed country of South Sudan will talk with a group of 12 students in a class I’m teaching, called The World in Which We Live. He’s a junior at Duke, and he and his family have just opened a school in South Sudan.
In 2010, Nyuol, then 19 years old, returned to his home village of Ayeit for the first time since he was five years old when he had to flee the village with his mother and siblings. As recounted in the article where I first learned about Nyuol, “He saw the remnants of war. Destroyed houses. Scorched land. Scarred people. Scarce jobs. A young population. And no schools. ‘Not even a single school,’ Tong says. ‘That was a horrifying fact.’ ”
I learned about Nyuol from the August edition of Duke Magazine:
When I saw that picture, I wondered who Nyuol was, so I read the article in the magazine and quickly became fascinated with a rising junior at Duke who is starting a school in the village of Ayeit, in South Sudan. Nyuol is from Ayeit, and his father, Lueth, is the chief of the village. Nyuol is one of his 35 children (Nyuol’s father has seven wives).
As a Duke graduate who’s also starting a school (mine is a middle school in Durham, called Triangle Learning Community) I emailed Nyuol. He emailed back, and about a month ago, we chatted over at Duke for about an hour. His life story is pretty amazing (read the article for an overview), and he told me about how the school got started. He even showed me pictures from his Facebook page of the community discussions where the village elders of Ayeit made the decision to dedicate land so that Nyuol’s nonprofit, SELFSudan, could open a school in Ayeit.
Somehow, I never expected I’d be looking at the Facebook page of the son of the chief of a village in the newly formed country of South Sudan…
I’ll write more soon — including more details about how Nyuol showed me where his village is located on Google Earth. To get there, he has to fly into either Ethiopia or Kenya, then take a flight to Juba, the capital of South Sudan; from there, he flies to Wau, the nearest regional airport to Ayeit. From Wau, it’s a 100-mile trip to Ayeit. You might expect that to be a two-hour drive, but with the current state of South Sudan’s roads, it’s more like a six-to-eight-hour journey.
I look forward to writing about Nyuol’s visit and to describing what my students learn from their time with this remarkable young man.