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Banaa Hosts USAID’s VISTAS

This September Banaa hosted USAID’s VISTAS of South Sudan (South Sudan’s Viable Support to Transition and Stability) for a public briefing on their work. The USAID VISTAS group discussed their efforts in South Sudan to mitigate the spread of future conflicts and rising tension in critical areas. The program participates in grassroots solutions to promote stability within communities, hosting skills courses for women and providing IDPs with resources and shelter. The program works directly with communities towards peace and community-level aimed conflict mitigation. Banaa was grateful to have the opportunity to learn more about the ongoing conflicts and developments in South Sudan from the peace builders who work with USID VISTAS.

One of these peace builders is Makwei Deng, the first Banaa scholar at The George Washington University. Makwei, originally from Jonglei state, graduated from GW with a double major in Economics and Philosophy. Makwei now works as a program specialist for VISTAS based in Bor, Jonglei state. Makwei is a wonderful example of a Banaa scholar successfully working towards peace in his home nation. Banaa wishes Makwei and the rest of the USAID VISTAS staff the best of luck as they return home and continue to work to bring stability to South Sudan.

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“A Year Like None: First Year of the Colonial Experience”; a guest post by current Banaa Scholar Jacob Mator

Administrator’s note: The current Banaa Scholar at GW, Jacob, graciously volunteered to write a short piece detailing his experience at GW and with Banaa. The following post is in Jacob’s own words.

Like any other international student, I was both nervous and excited to join a university in United States of America. The question of: how will I blend into this culturally intricate society? How will everybody on campus treat me, given that I will undoubtedly be different in some way from the rest of students? The system of education in USA will be totally different from the one I went through, how will I fit myself into it to achieve the best? Is this going to be a crazy experience? On other hand, I was excited that a dream of earning a college degree from a university in the United States of America has finally come true. Earning it from the most admired university on earth, The George Washington University, at the heart of a city anyone ever born fancies visiting, Washington, DC excited me even more.

Arrival at Washington Dulles International Airport

Although there were ups and downs with acquisition of a visa stamp at the US Embassy in Nairobi, the George Washington University Banaa staff pressed on the embassy to expedite visa process to be able to arrive at DC on August, 7th. It was an overdue arrival.

After sixteen-hour-long connected flight through Armsterdam, our flight touched down at 3 PM EST. The custom check took a little bit of a while, an hour. There were so many people fluxing to the nation’s capital, many of them being students like me. I could tell from the bunch of papers they present at custom desk—most of them look more like my I20.

I couldn’t wait to get out of the confine of Dulles. I just wanted to see the beauty of the world’s famous city.

It took couple of minutes to have my documents verified, and welcomed by an officer behind the desk after she humorously alerted me of the scorching summer heat outside the airport. I had leather Jacket on then. I thanked her and head to claim my luggage and excitedly proceed to the airport waiting lounge to meet the Banaa student team beaming with immeasurable excitement. The warm welcome by the team made feel at home already.

Cultural Orientation

For the entire day, the Banaa students and staff ran me through the fundamental American culture and how to make the best out of class. This exposure later became a crucial guideline of dos and don’ts as I interacted with people both on and off campus, hence, made friends-making easier. After undergoing the orientation, I was relieved of the nervousness as I felt armed enough with essentials for easy transition into the new culture. I recommend the same be done to the future Banaa scholars, for it lays a foundation of easy transition to the new culture which otherwise can be pretty overwhelming if left in Scholar’s hand to navigate alone.

As part of orientation, as well as introduction to one of the objective of Banaa, the peace-making, we underwent a daylong peace workshop at the United States Institute of Peace. The workshop opened the USIP’s door to me. Since then I have been attending peace-oriented events at the institute. USIP serves as a resource to learning more about the causes of the contemporary world conflicts and how they are being addressed. The institute has been a great avenue for networking too. Continuing making use of this institution, I will be knowledgeable about conflict management by the time I graduate; an invaluable tool that will usable whenever a duty calls in future.

Campus involvement

With over two-hundred student organizations, GW provides a healthy environment for intellectual and professional growth. I have been involved heavily as a member with America Society of Civil engineers and African Students Association. I am also a member of GW stand, an anti-genocide student organization. My activeness in GW ASA has earned me a slot in the association’s executive board to serve as secretary in 2014/2015 year, a chance to hone leadership as well as putting on more professional weight.

To expose me to political vibrancy of the nation’s capital, GW has provided opportunities to attend talks by high-profile policy makers. This summer I attended General Collin Powell’s talk, an event that was informing and inspiring.

The location of GW, right at the heart of the national’s capital, diversifies the learning. Every step in street of DC is an encounter of history. Politics is daily business on campus. All this, gives chance to the engineering student, who would have concentrated only on engineering stuff, to acquire diversified knowledge.

Looking a year back, it’s obvious to me extent of professional and intellectual evolution that I have undergone. Despite few challenges that I experience here and there in adjusting to the system and absorbing the culture, my first year at GW was incomparably great!

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