Category Archives: Guest Posts

Education Development in South Sudan: How Banaa is Helping Out

When I joined The Banaa Student Group over a year ago, I knew education was beneficial, but I was naïve as to how much. I have been amazed at how knowledgeable the Banaa Scholars are and at how seriously they take their education. Sudan and South Sudan need well-rounded people that are committed to a peaceful future for the countries.  South Sudan is in dire need of committed people for education development, as it has one of the worst education systems in the world.  The positive externalities associated with education are bountiful; the least of which are health development and peacebuilding.

South Sudan’s desire to develop and provide for its people is in stark contrast with its reality. South Sudan is believed to have the world’s worst literacy rate.1 It’s such a shame because the people of South Sudan have shown a high resilience and commitment to education. Survey evidence shows that South Sudanese parents identify schooling, alongside food and water, as being a major priority.2 According to a review written by former Prime Minister of the UK, Gordon Brown, “education has the potential to deliver an early, large and highly visible peace dividend.”2

To give due diligence, there is an education system that was in place at the time of the 2005 CPA peace accords. The Government of South Sudan did lay out an education strategy. However, only the initial foundations are in place, heavily supported by donors and NGOs, which have found ways of delivering results while helping to build up government capacity.  Yet progress made is constantly threatened because of an economic and institutional deficiency in the country. One of the biggest examples of this deficiency is the lack of quantity and quality of schools and teachers.

South Sudan literacy rate for population 15-24 years old by state


Screen shot 2013-07-24 at 11.54.31 PMMany teachers do not know how to manage a classroom full of students with different abilities and needs. One reason for this lack of quantity is that a generation of South Sudanese adults have been deprived of basic education.3 Another reason is the country’s decision to switch from Arabic to English as the language of instruction while many of the better qualified adults are learnt in Arabic.

This dearth of quality is why South Sudan ranks second to last in secondary education out of 134 countries. 2 The system of higher education in South Sudan is even worse. Not only are new universities suffering, which were set up to become centers of excellence in specific subjects, but so are established universities, like the University of Juba, which is suffering through economic and institutional deficiencies as well.3  For example, the University of Rumbek was meant to serve as colleges of education, economics, medicine, and agriculture. The first two have opened, only to be closed abruptly last year.It also does not help that there are ongoing conflicts with Sudan over oil.

So how impactful can Banaa be on one of the worst education systems in the world? All we can do is produce drops in a very large bucket, but the ripples that emerge have the potential to be very large indeed. South Sudan needs well-rounded people, within its own borders, who are committed to a peaceful future for their country. This is a defining aspect of being a Banaa Scholar.  A commitment to peace means a commitment to education. Banaa Scholars have a high regard for education because of their own experience. They are future leaders in improving their country’s education. Educating a Sudanese and South Sudanese is not just about helping one person; it is about giving the critical tools that will allow passionate people to effectively help their country develop in a sustainable manner. The Scholars also serve as a vital link between Sudanese diaspora in the United States and the Sudanese communities back home.  With the first Banaa Scholar, Makwei Mabior Deng, back in South Sudan, the country and its education system can only become better from the efforts of Makwei and future South Sudanese Banaa graduates!


Jasmin Khangura

Banaa Member

George Washington University Class of 2014

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Banaa Program Update-Summer 2013

The Banaa Scholarship Program is pleased to announce the admittance of new scholars to George Washington University and the University of Rochester for the upcoming school year! Banaa provides outstanding Sudanese and South Sudanese survivors of atrocity committed to peace-building with full scholarships at universities in the United States. Upon the completion of their degree, Banaa scholars are expected to return to Sudan and South Sudan with the skills necessary to peacefully address the complexities of the war-torn region. Last year, the first Banaa scholar, Makwei Mabioor Deng, graduated from GW with a degree in Philosophy and Economics. Jamie, Makwei, RyanHe returned to South Sudan last August, and has since been working as the Country Fellow for the IGC, an economic and academic think tank, conducting research and policy analysis for the government of South Sudan. Jacob Mator Aketch was selected to be GW’s second Banaa scholar as part of the class of 2017, and will begin studying engineering this fall. Ultimately, he hopes to leverage his education to work to develop infrastructure in Sudan when he returns to his home country. Mo and Sameer, the two Banaa scholars currently studying at the UofR in New York, will be entering their senior and junior years respectively.  This fall they will be joined by incoming freshman Salva Kuac Barjok, whose commitment to education despite adversity and his devotion to promoting the freedom of expression, good governance, and economic growth as a newspaper contributor make him an ideal Banaa scholarship candidate.

Banaa is based at The George Washington University and, since its founding in 2005, has been facilitated by GW students. At the heart of Banaa is the idea that students and young people are able to use university resources to create peaceful change. While host universities commit to providing tuition, room, and board for the scholars they admit, Banaa is responsible for fund-raising to cover the cost of countless other aspects of the program, including a living stipend for the scholar, travel expenses, and other costs. Banaa also welcomes in-kind donations for items useful to scholars, such as winter coats, laptops, and cell phones.

The student members of Banaa ran the first ever Banaa Summer Summit, hosted at GW last summer, which is to become an annual event. For the Summit, Banaa partnered with DC NGOs including The United States Institute for Peace, The National Democratic Institute, and The ENOUGH Project, to provide scholars with several days of

Banaa Scholars and Staff after a workshop during the 2012 Summer Summit

Banaa Scholars and Staff after a workshop during the 2012 Summer Summit

workshops centering around peace-building and conflict resolution skills. Scholars also honed public speaking skills during the Summit, working with professional facilitators to develop their incredibly powerful stories of self as tools for peace-building. This year, the Summer Summit is scheduled to take place at GW from August 8th-12th. We are so excited to meet the two new Banaa scholars and start a new school year! For more information on any aspect of the Banaa program, including the Summit, the application process and existing scholars, and fundraising or donating to Banaa, please explore our website or email


Jamie Fisher-Hertz

Banaa Staff

George Washington University Class of 2014

**There are many ways to get involved with Banaa! We’ve even made a list of suggestions for you! Also, be sure to Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our blog!

**A version of this article was first published in the George Washington University’s Philosophy Department’s Spring 2013 Newsletter

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The Challenges Facing Education in South Sudan

Most of us tend to take our education for granted; we expect to be taught and for our teachers to be qualified to do the job well. What if we were students in a school in South Sudan? Teachers there are often under qualified for high school lessons, because their own education has been poor. They come to the classroom with low literacy skills and are only able to teach to their level. On top of this, students recently sat new high school exams in the country, but some questions were missing and others asked about parts of the syllabus that had not been covered, leading to a frustrating situation, as entry to university in Sudan hinges on exam performance.

This is why Banaa is so important to the future of Sudan’s education. Students who have been marginalized and have suffered in their troubled country need to be supported and they need to receive the best education to make sure they can take the skills they learn in the U.S back to Sudan in the future. Students need empowering, not repressing.

Teachers Need Teaching

VOA News reported on the problem of under-qualified teachers in Sudan early in May this year. Less than 5 per cent of teachers in South Sudan have the skills to teach in schools, said education officials. Around 3 per cent of teachers in the region had been taught at college or university; most of the teachers had stopped learning after secondary school.

The government in South Sudan has introduced a training initiative for teachers to enable them to become better qualified for the job. This was organized by SSTEP, the South Sudan Teacher Education Program and teachers throughout the region took part because they understand how important a good education is.

Other factors come into play however, such as low pay and not enough textbooks, making the training an uphill struggle. Conditions need to improve, so that teachers and students have a better experience in schools. At Banaa, Sudanese students benefit from the scholarships that are offered to them. If these students can return to Sudan in the future, armed with the solid skills to promote economic development and improved education, the tide will surely turn. Students benefit from a quality education through the Banaa initiative, providing them with valuable skills in mathematics, literacy and life sciences that they would not learn in such depth in Sudan’s current education climate.  The more specialized areas of molecular biology and biotechnology are growing in popularity as fields of study, and through Banaa scholarships, students can learn these subjects in depth and implement what they learn when they return to Sudan.

High School Exams Flawed

For students in Sudan to gain a place at university, they must sit an exam. The first national high school papers were set in March this year, to a level of excitement among teachers and students alike, but frustratingly, many questions were missing and there was a long wait for the actual papers to arrive from Juba, South Sudan. The Sudan Tribune reported that many of the students had to wait half a day for the papers to be delivered and when they finally came, questions were missing, the exams were confusing and contained many mistakes.

The new education system in South Sudan means that this year is the first year for students to sit exams. The initiative has been received well, but parents, students and teachers are now frustrated at the mistakes that have been made and the risk it puts youngsters in for not gaining a university place because of the exams.

A Lack of Books

Students in South Sudan have to share textbooks, and sometimes up to 9 students might be trying to read the same book, according to, the South Sudan News Agency. A shortage of books, along with overcrowding in classrooms, has led to many youngsters failing to complete their primary education.  The parliamentary committee has recently been given new primary books in a drive to improve conditions in the region.

Banaa Promotes Quality Education

Banaa offers scholarships to inspiring applicants from Sudan, with a focus on equality for all. This gives students the best possible education and once their studies are over, they return to Sudan to help marginalized communities and to promote peace in their country. Banaa can change lives with its education initiative. This is vital for Sudan’s future peacekeepers, scientists, economists and teachers, as education is the best way of shaping the community and improving the undesirable conditions of many who live in the shadow of oppression.


-Eve Green

A new fan of Banaa not to be mistaken with Eve Gray!

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Working Towards Education for all in Sudan

Sudan is a complicated, political nation and, as such, there are many young people missing out on educational opportunities that the rest of us take for granted every day. The willingness to learn is often not enough in a war torn country, which is why Sudan needs the help of external organizations for it to build its future. Peacemaking initiatives are reaching out to students and offering them a chance to rise above conflicts in their home country. is becoming crucial to education in this region with its skill-building program that empowers Sudanese students who have suffered deprivation and overcome atrocity.

Banaa is Overcoming Barriers

Through work with international organisations, barriers to education have begun to come down. Banaa plays an important role in this, with GW University program leaders working with campuses around the U.S. to promote the idea of scholarships for underprivileged students in Sudan. In Southern Sudan almost half of school children were not able to access basic learning facilities and drop out rates for girls were particularly high in primary school. Banaa understands that Sudan is a nation caught up in conflict and that this is caused by a variety of regional problems that need addressing. Education is at the heart of a nation; without it that nation does not have the ability to grow and to thrive. This is why Banaa focuses on Sudan and on enabling disadvantaged young people to receive the education they deserve. Internationally, a Peace-building, Education and Advocacy Programme (PBEA) has been formed, with an emphasis on countries like Sudan, and will run until 2015, with a focus on education within countries at risk from horrific conflict. UNICEF claims that ‘access of quality education is a right that should be sustained even in the most difficult circumstances’. Education has a knock on effect to a country’s economic and social climate and therefore needs to be supported on a continuing basis. By recruiting young people with their own peaceful vision for Africa’s future, Banaa is working towards developing highly skilled graduates in the U.S who will then return to Sudan armed with technical and practical skills for leadership.

Education Projects

Funding projects exist in Sudan that will ensure that primary schools are built in South Sudan and that girls and women are included in all opportunities available. Projects focus on sustainable education that helps the community and ultimately the local economy, building leadership skills in students and empowering rural communities that have not been given the educational choices they need. Banaa takes this a step further by encouraging independence among Sudanese students, thus reducing the need for dependent assistance. The unique approach of giving scholarships to undergraduates and basing them in the U.S removes these young people from areas of conflict and equips them with the skills they need to take back to Sudan when they are ready.

Health Issues Affecting Education

Health issues are often a factor in education drop out numbers in Sudan. Gender inequality is often caused by girls and women having babies during their education, but there are other factors that are significant in the fall in numbers from Primary to Secondary and University education in Sudan. Malaria and typhoid fever are common on rivers and in areas where sanitation may be poor and these diseases occur in Sudan. A laboratory test is needed to obtain a proper diagnosis before medical treatment can be sought. The South Sudan Ministry of Health is working to ensure that quality practice relating to tests is carried out in laboratories to avoid misdiagnosis of these diseases. Regular health checks in Sudan can help to avoid the spread of disease and ensure that children who care for sick parents or who might become sick themselves can attend school and university and not miss out on their valuable education.

With factors in Africa being addressed on a continuing basis, the most important issue remains sustainable education for future generations of Sudanese youngsters. By focusing on providing scholarships to students through U.S university programs, Banaa is taking important steps to educate victims of conflict and arming them with the skills they need to become future leaders of this country.


-Eve Green

A new fan of Banaa not to be mistaken with Eve Gray!


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My Friend Makwei; The Sudanese Socrates

In my first semester at GW, I joined an organization called because I was impressed with its story and mission. Student activists influenced the university to leverage its educational resources to help bring peace to conflict-ridden Sudan by awarding a scholarship to a Sudanese student.  Two years later, I realize that working with Banaa has helped me grow immensely as a young professional, but the greatest impact on my life comes from the friendship I developed with Makwei, the Banaa scholar.Makwei and Brian

Makwei, raised in a refugee camp since age seven, would certainly have much to teach someone like me who is interested in international affairs and conflict resolution.  I remember briefly speaking with him once about the UN’s involvement in Sudan and the pastoral lifestyle of the Dinka in South Sudan.  But after taking Modern Philosophy together in the spring of my freshman year, philosophy always became the center of our conversations.  The first time I talked with him after class he explained how much his mind was opened by taking philosophy, a subject that he never had the chance of studying.

I remember meeting up with him for lunch one Saturday shortly thereafter; we sat in the restaurant debating about the existence of the universe for four hours!  Sadly for the universe I was not able to provide him with a convincing argument.  Even sadder to me is the fact that Makwei is graduating this spring.  I will miss him and his skeptical nature after he flies back across the Atlantic, but I know he will keep touching the lives of those around him in his home nation.

I never would have met Makwei if it were not for Banaa, which is why I am so happy to be part of the organization.  I am thrilled to say that GW will be welcoming its second Banaa scholar this upcoming semester.  I look forward to meeting the newest scholar, whom I promise to convince, in Makwei’s honor, that the universe does exist.

For more information about Banaa, email me at or visit

This piece was originally submitted to the George Washington University Philosophy Department Spring 2012 Newsletter


-Brian Browne

Banaa Staff

George Washington University Class of 2014

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Challenges Facing Students in Darfur: Banaa as a Ray of Hope

I originally got involved with Banaa after tutoring a Darfurian student and helping him apply for the scholarship. I had worked for 14 months in Darfur with a company that was building the peacekeeping camps out there.  Over the course of tutoring Mohamed, I realized how nearly impossible it would be for a Darfurian to complete an application for a US college, let alone have a decent chance of being considered.

Joseph, Mo, and Eve at U of RI met “Mo” when he carried my giant bags to my tent upon arrival, after my exhausting journey from the US.  When I met him, Mo was 18 or so working on our facilities operation and maintenance, after working his way up from being a ditch-digger at 16. He was a friendly person in a hostile environment. Mo was regularly being told he should apply to a US college since he was college age and spoke excellent English.  Except for rich Sudanese who had been to foreign schools, Mo had the best English of any Sudanese person I have ever encountered. This is doubly impressive since I had employees with Sudanese university degrees in English, who weren’t as proficient.

Tutoring was my way of trying to give something to the people of Darfur, an attempt to help at least one person. I tutored Mo whenever we had time after work.  Mo’s speaking skills had developed quickly on the job, but he had not had access to anything above what American schools would consider basic English courses in school. In retrospect, I admire Mo for hanging on, for trying to squeeze in studying after a 12-hour day, for overcoming what must have been a lot of intimidating coursework. There were times when Mo would show up for lessons when I was exhausted and had to fight the urge to cancel, reminding myself he was working twice as hard as us office workers.

I spent a lot of time trying to find a scholarship that might be a good fit for Mohamed. Over several months, I only found 2 or 3 undergraduate scholarships for Sudanese students. All of them were aimed at students from south Sudan and were designed for refugees with access to American schools, not for students actually living in Sudan. These scholarships required things like several types of standardized testing which would have been virtually impossible for anyone in Darfur to obtain without the help of a western mentor. Reasons for this include:

-Inaccessibility of either credit cards or checks

-Cost of Internet usage, test registration fees, and flights to testing centers, etc.

I figured Mo should consider taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), while I kept researching scholarships in the hope of finding a loophole or shortcut.  A few coworkers and I paid the roughly $150 US initial registration fee for the TOEFL as a gift. Mo was able to ride one of our company planes for free. It was a 4-day journey for Mo to get to the capital, take the test and return. Darfur is roughly the size of France, and Mo told us he was the only Darfurian to take the test that day.

When I found out about Banaa, it felt like a ray of hope. The Banaa program, with its lack of standardized testing requirements, and willingness to make a qualitative evaluation based on the candidate’s application was a breath of fresh air after reading about so many scholarships so out of reach. Their application seemed sane and designed to assist real people.

I was stunned when I heard Mohamed had made it to the semi-finalists of scholarship applicants. Banaa volunteers worked with him despite poor access to phone and Internet communications.  I started helping Banaa volunteers make sure Mo got whatever paperwork was needed, since I knew they had other applicants they also needed to keep track of.

I got a chance to know Evan Faber from Banaa as Mohamed’s arrival date neared. I had volunteered to help with Mohamed’s logistics since I had travelled to and from Sudan. I was incredibly surprised to realize how few staff and how little money Banaa operated on. Up until I met Evan and some of the other student volunteers, I had no idea how much heart and soul everyone was pouring into this effort. It made me want to get involved with an organization that could do so much with so little.

Sudan is only recently coming out of its troubled history and Banaa provides a way for Sudanese leaders to develop their own solutions to the challenges of their home communities. Aside from the benefit to the individual scholar, there is the knowledge and skills he or she will bring home, the other students (both US and Sudanese) he or she will inspire, and the fact that this is a narrative of hope, opportunity and planning for the future.  I hope to see Banaa grow and offer more scholarships in the US and share lessons learned with the educational and non-profit/development community. Banaa is a seedling organization helping both young leaders and Sudanese communities take root and grow.


-Eve Gray

Please consider making a gift to Banaa to support our efforts to provide scholarships to new scholars this year

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What Banaa Has Taught Me

Banaa Scholars and Staff at the US Capitol Building

Banaa Scholars and Staff at the US Capitol Building

When I joined Banaa about a year ago, I had no idea that it would be one of the most inspiring, overwhelming, and wonderful things I have done yet.  I thought I knew about the conflict and situation in Sudan and South Sudan.  I didn’t at all, but I knew that I wanted to do more than I was.  The simple story is that Banaa is an entirely student-run organization that works to connect Sudanese scholars, who have faced so many challenges and atrocities, with scholarships in the United States so they can be equipped with knowledge, skills, and connections to change the situation in their home countries.  I cannot explain how much I have learned and grown because I chose to get involved with Banaa and the positive impact it has had on my life.

The Banaa scholars are strong and inspiring people who have become my friends.  Hearing even pieces of their stories this summer was life changing.  I am so happy that they are here brightening up and contributing to their college campuses, the lives of their friends, and various organizations around the country.  Knowing them has made me believe even more in Banaa’s mission of educating extraordinary people so they can be empowered to change their own country.  The Banaa program is small and personal.  We are a small organization and that means that we can only choose a few scholars to admit every year.  Every one of them is intelligent, talented, and has shown a dedication to promoting peace.  Each scholar makes a huge commitment to leaving behind his or her family and everything he or she knows to learn in the United States and dedicates his or her future to improving his or her country.  Banaa scholars more than deserve every opportunity we can give them.

My seven fellow Banaa staff and I have been through so much together fighting for our organization.  We have struggled to find a place for Banaa at GW, dealt with disappointments, and shared many triumphs.  Only students ourselves, we are trying and learning to make a difference in the world amongst a lot of red tape, cynicism, and homework of our own.  We are making budgets, fighting for every dollar of funding, interviewing candidates, attending hundreds and hundreds of meetings, and living and breathing this work.  I have never seen a group of people so determined to make a difference and so willing to give it everything they have.  Banaa has taught me about the importance of education, hard work, and never giving up.

At this point we are still working hard.  Our goal is to bring one of several extraordinary candidates to matriculate at GW in the fall of 2013.  We have secured a generous scholarship offer from the university and have put candidates through the first round of admissions.  In order to accept a scholar, however, we still need to raise about $4,000 by March 15.  This is where you can come in.  If you can, please donate.  Every dollar counts towards our goal and anything you can give we would appreciate so much.  If you have any airline miles to give, please donate those and we could use them to fly the scholar to DC from Sudan. If you think that Banaa is worth sharing then post about us on Facebook, Tweet about us, or just tell somebody who might be interested in giving someone an opportunity for an education.

Thank you for reading this and taking action.  You have no idea how important it is to me, a group of GW students, one amazing future GW student, and maybe someday an entire nation.


-Haley Aubuchon

Banaa Staff

George Washington University 2014

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Bringing Banaa to the University of Rochester

It was a warm September day in 2009 when I received a Facebook message from a friend at Goucher College asking for advice for how to set up a student organization – a student organization she called Banaa that I had never heard of before. In 2008 I had started an organization called University of Rochester Genocide Intervention. I remember how the wind brushed against my face, after responding to her, and in response, I turned my head away from the wind to shield my eyes. I opened my eyes to a view of Wilson Commons, the Student connections building and thought to myself we have students, why not bring Banaa here?Joseph, Mo, and Eve at U of R

I knew that such an enterprise would need student support and I knew that my fellow students would support the idea so I collected over 350 student signatures at our campus club fair later that week. My peers made it easy.

In October 2009, I approached Dean Jon Burdick, Dean of Admissions at the U of R, about bringing the Banaa program to Rochester. I shared with him a power point presentation and materials that explained the program design and the benefits it would bring Sudan, potential young Sudanese scholars and the U of R, and endorsements from the Frederick Douglas Institute and the M.K. Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence. Given his interest and experience in Africa, we shared a mutual interest in trying to make it work. Before I could even show him the petition, he had agreed to working with me to make this happen! In fact, it took until the following March after one of our meetings for me to share with him the long petition for a laugh. Our discussions were spirited, and yielded a commitment for a full four year scholarship, as part of U of R’s Renaissance Scholars’ Program. By January, I had formed a committed group of interested supportive students – all members of University of Rochester Genocide Intervention.

The Banaa team at the U of R is part of the University of Rochester Genocide Intervention. URGI endeavors to do four things: we ADVOCATE on behalf of genocide victims around the world by writing letters, calling, and demonstrating to our governmental officials to support our fellow human beings in need, we VOLUNTEER and help local refugees in the community, we FUNDRAISE to send over 1 thousand dollars overseas in our first year, and we RAISE AWARENESS on our campus and in our community about Genocide victim’s experiences around the world past and present. UR Banaa now comprises a core team of four individuals. In fall 2010 we hosted a large dinner/speaking event with Mr. John Dau about the common humanity we all share regardless where we are. We are connected as human beings yet remain fruitfully diverse. Alumni, students, administrators and community members spoke with one another throughout the event in what turned out to be a fantastic event. Eventually the community dialogue generated from the event garnered us a 2,500 dollar prize called the Presidential Diversity Award – an award no other student organization has ever received. This prize money has all gone to furthering our support of the banaa program. Currently we are working to support our hard-working friend and scholar (who is sitting at a table behind me in the library studying hard at midnight on a Wednesday night) and working to create a support network for all of the present and future scholars who come from conflict regions around the world.

Since arriving in September, Mo Hassan has become a popular and dynamic figure on campus. He has given speeches, such as the at the Celebrate Our Humanity event and recently at an Interfaith Dialogue Dinner. He has shared is life and his story, bringing a perspective to our campus would otherwise be lacking. I often see Mo around campus with his “GO BAG”, his bright yellow bike, occasionally with reptile-scaled boots, always with a friendly face, and meet him with a brotherly embrace.

Starting a Banaa chapter has provided an incredible opportunity to hone skills that go beyond organizing: it has involved negotiation, bureaucratic ju jitsu (expecially with arranging the financial aid package), and responsibility for fulfilling obligations to a human being – all while making some new friends involved at GWU and PAE.

What’s more, I know my contribution is felt not only by Mo and by Rochester, but will be multiplied many-fold when Mo returns to Darfur to promote peace through knowledge and expertise he may never have had the opportunity to acquire.

We are proof that any college student can start a Banaa chapter from scratch, and host an incredible individual. We can do our part to promote a better future for a destitute nation, and change our lives and campus in the process. Lets prove to the world that as individuals we can truly come together and create opportunities for ourselves and others to really show that humans are courageously caring beings.


-Joseph Gardella, University of Rochester ’12

Graduate Student,
Ph.D. in Community Research and Action,
Peabody College, Vanderbilt University (expected date of graduation ’17)

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