Friday, July 15, 2011

East Africa Day 62 (Thurs July 14): Garang & New Scholars

Firstly, today is my mom's Birthday! Happy Birthday, Mom! Not quite as noteworthy, but I've been in East Africa for exactly 2 months today - was picked up by Daraja at the Nairobi airport on May 14.

Last April, I attended a screening of the film “God Grew Tired of Us”, put on by the San Francisco Save Darfur Coalition. I’d attended the screening because I’d read that Garang Akau, the co-founder of New Scholars, and the only Lost Boy to have graduated from Stanford, would be speaking at the screening. I had visited the New Scholars website and really liked what the organization was about – I was looking forward to hearing Garang speak more about it. I enjoyed (and cried my way through) the film, which was my introduction to the Lost Boys of Sudan. After the film Garang spoke, and I got to meet him briefly afterwards. I was really impressed – I felt like we had similar approaches to effecting change. In the month or so following the film screening, Garang and I exchanged a few emails – I was trying to gather and introduce Garang and my friends from San Francisco for Acumen (Fund) and Sparkseed to each other. Unfortunately schedules didn’t match up, and we never all got together.

Here's a presentation given by Garang in Nov 2010 ...

But then when I was looking for another East Africa placement to follow on the heels of my time at Daraja, I thought of Garang. We spoke on the phone earlier this year, and he invited me to volunteer for New Scholars this summer. So we decided that I’d stay in East Africa until Aug 22, so that I could help prepare for the New Scholars Entrepreneurial Safari, which would take place over a two-week period in August, likely in Nairobi. The Entrepreneurial Safari would bring Silicon Valley style entrepreneurs to East Africa to teach Sudanese youth how to write business plans, and to provide guidance and some seed funding as the youth started their own businesses. I would be helping with logistics and identifying the youth to participate in the Entrepreneurial Safari.

At the time that we made these plans, Garang and I were both living in the Bay Area. But then Garang moved back to Southern Sudan, and I left for Daraja Academy’s campus. Conditions in Sudan made communicating difficult, but Garang and I were able to reconnected last week via email once he got to Kenya, and then on Tuesday via cell phone. We made plans to meet up this afternoon in Nairobi. I was sooo excited to catch up! Other than Meg in Jija, Garang was the only person in East Africa that I knew from back home.

When we met up, Garang caught me up on what he’s been up to regarding New Scholars, his future plans, and how his family members in Southern Sudan and Kenya are doing. Given infrastructure challenges, and the fact that he is only in Kenya for about a week before returning to Southern Sudan, I was so appreciative of the time that I got to spend catching up with him in person, and the opportunity to learn more from him.

I was also so excited to get to learn more about how I can help him with New Scholars. I will be conducting research (mostly online) about sources of funding for business persons in Southern Sudan, like-minded organizations in Southern Sudan, and places where Garang can market New Scholars and identify youth to participate in New Scholars. I’m really just excited to help out in any way possible, and am hoping to get to Southern Sudan as soon as I am comfortable traveling there. Garang is doing amazing things in his home country, and has received some really exciting support and encouragement. I’m so excited to get to contribute to the future of Southern Sudan by helping him. Thanks to Carrie Ting for sending me these photos of Southern Sudan's Independence Day Celebrations etc!

(And yes, I had another California-style, vegan burrito at the cafĂ© – couldn’t pass that up since my body has been asking for anything other than carbs and cookies:) I also made too many trips to Nakumatt today, which is about a 10 minute walk from the apartment. It’s the main (western-ized) supermarket chain in Kenya, but wow – they don’t exactly carry the products that I’m used to cooking with. I’m not talking about brand names, organic, or even container types (buying in bulk as opposed to pre-packaged) – I’m talking about foods. However, I did find a bulk of “Chinese Tofu” in a leaking plastic bag – a little suspicious looking, but I took it home! Ugh – if nothing else, my body will be SO HAPPY to get back to the USA on Aug 22. Bring on the leafy greens!

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