Several students and a faculty member gathered in Woods Hall Tuesday evening to celebrate the graduation of nine high school scholars half way around the globe.
Tavitha Amol, Adhieu Manyok, Elizabeth Adhieu, Rhoda Akuol, Ayak Wach, Nyibol Deng, Yar Bior, Akoi Atem, Elizabeth Amam and Raik all graduated from AGC Lokichar Secondary School in South Sudan this year.
Each was financially sponsored by the Women’s Education Empowerment Project for Southern Sudan, a Murray State-born project to assist women in the central-African country torn by military strife and governmental uncertainties.
W.E.E.P. began on campus in February 2007 by student Gabriel Akech Kwai, who gathered a small group of like-minded students to help educate women in comparatively poverty-stricken South Sudan.
Kwai, born in South Sudan at the end of the First Sudanese War, lost his parents due to regional revolutionary uprisings in the 1980s. Away from his parents and family, he travelled with a group of 30,000 Sudanese children who became known as the “Lost Boys of Sudan.”
Finding no government refuge from Ethiopia, the “Lost Boys” dispersed in various central African territories and countries.
Kwai, who found refuge in a border camp in Ethiopia earned his elementary and secondary education degrees in Africa before moving to the United States with 4,000 other children in 2001 as part of a U.S. Resolution to grant refuge. In the states, he moved to Kentucky where he attended Murray State and founded W.E.E.P.
He guided the small group of activists under the theory that by educating women, W.E.E.P. would be stirring a catalyst to promote further educational development amongst South Sudanese families.
Tuesday night, Jonah Waggoner, senior from St. Louis, Mo., and the organization’s new president, held an event in Wood’s Hall to commemorate W.E.E.P.’s first short-term goal – to graduate 10 South Sudanese through high school.
Waggoner said through a variety of University events and a focus on private donations, W.E.E.P surpassed its goal by one girl.
“We’ve had for three years now ‘Cake Walk’ out in the quad,” he said. “It kind of turned into a glorified bake sale. We usually get cakes and doughnuts donated by local businesses.”
Waggoner said citywide litter pick-ups contributed the most money to the nine most recent graduates from AGC Lokichar Secondary School.
Waggoner, nutrition major, said helping people in need has always been an important part of his life. He said that need is what led him to carry W.E.E.P.’s torch following Kwai’s graduation.
“I have kind of had a soft heart for those in need, and obviously, a lot of people in Africa are in dire straights,” he said. “The methods that (Kwai) used really hit home with me – the fact that we can send as much money and food over to Africa as we want. But until we teach them to help themselves, to pull themselves out of poverty, it’s just going to be a continuing problem.”
Waggoner said the total cost of sponsoring a South Sudanese girl for a four-year education costs $1,200 – a financial burden some locals have adopted on their own.