Tag Archives: Banaa Blog

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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Banaa Hosts Third Summer Summit

Earlier this month, three of the Banaa scholars were reunited in Washington, D.C. for a few days of workshops at our Third Summer Summit. Two of our scholars from the University of Rochester, Sameer Kuku Kafur and Salva Kuac Barjok, had the opportunity to meet up once again with their fellow scholar, Jacob Mator Aketch from The George Washington University for an exciting three days of stimulating discussions.

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The summit began on August 6th with a workshop at The Enough Project, where the scholars were able to learn more about The Enough Project’s efforts to build peace and end crimes against humanity in and around Sudan and South Sudan. The scholars eagerly engaged the staff by asking questions about how they expect to see Sudan and South Sudan change in the upcoming years and were able to learn how non-profit organizations like The Enough Project are able to make positive impacts in the development of the Sudans.

Later that day, the scholars met with Jonas Claes, the Senior Program Officer for the Center for Applied Research on Conflict (ARC) at the United States Institute of Peace. Claes gave presentations on the Responsibility to Protect, a norm stating that states are responsible for protecting their citizens from mass atrocities, as well as on election violence across a variety of nations. The scholars particularly enjoyed this workshop, with Jacob commenting that he was grateful to have this opportunity to learn about subjects that are not often brought up in his typical civil engineering coursework.

On the second day, the scholars explored exhibits at the National Museum of American History before heading over to the Department of State for an incredible workshop in the Office of the Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan. While there, the scholars had the opportunity to speak with the ambassador to South Sudan, Susan D. Page as well as the Senior Sudan and South Sudan Desk Officers, Breanna Green and Sean Cely. Everyone involved had a great, informative time through thought-provoking discussions between the scholars and the U.S. government’s leading experts on Sudan and South Sudan. The scholars and the office staff all learned from each other as the scholars asked questions regarding sanctions and the role of the Special Envoy’s office, and the Desk Officers asked the scholars about what they think is the most important thing for the office to know about the Sudanese and South Sudanese people.

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For the final day of the summit, Eve Gray of Banaa’s Board of Advisors hosted a workshop for the scholars with a focus on networking. The scholars practiced introductory conversations that they can use at networking events in order to connect more easily with people who have similar interests to them. In fact, the workshop was so successful that the scholars were able to talk and exchange business cards with a Sudanese person that they saw while walking to lunch just ten minutes after Eve’s workshop had finished!


Once the final workshop was completed, the scholars enjoyed a final wrap-up lunch with friends, members of Banaa’s Board of Advisors, and alumni of the Banaa student organization. The summit ended with the scholars feeling grateful for both the opportunity to reconnect with each other and the Banaa staff as well as for the intriguing workshops they were able to participate in. We wish the scholars the best of luck as they continue their studies and their work, and we cannot wait for next year’s summit!

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Mike Salvatore

Banaa Staff

George Washington University Class of 2018

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Banaa Scholar graduates from University of Rochester

The GW Banaa Team is proud to congratulate one of our first Banaa scholars, Mohamed Ahmed for recently graduating from the University of Rochester with a double major in Financial Economics and Political Science.


Mo is pictured here with Eve Gray, a former volunteer of the Banaa scholarship, who attended Mo’s graduation. In her own article about Mo, she writes: “I feel very privileged that I got to attend Mo’s graduation and support him while he earned an education from Rochester. I hope this will open many doors for him, not just to get a career and support himself and his family, but also to be a voice for people in Darfur.”

Mohamed, or “Mo” is from Darfur, Sudan and was accepted as the second ever Banaa scholar and first Banaa scholar at the University of Rochester in 2010. His charisma and passion for peacemaking have allowed him to make a difference in his school and community as the President of the African Student Association within the University of Rochester and as an intern for Human Rights Watch in New York City.


Mo posing with his undergraduate diploma

The role of the University of Rochester within the Banaa program has continued to expand as they also have taken on their fourth scholar, Emman, for this coming school year. Again, a big congratulations to Mo and we will be supporting him in whatever lies ahead on his journey.


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Farewell Letter to Ryan Brenner

Dear Ryan,

With less than 48 hours left for you to land in Africa (Sudan), it reminds me of your fundamental roles played to make my presence in America a reality, as I’m sitting in Dekie Tower, with windows wide opened, looking through to the University Park and viewing other astonishing areas around me from my room, I’m called in by my judgments to honor you.1239035_10151633519843848_1407024195_n

Ryan, I do reminisce how you profoundly coordinate with the American Embassy in Kenya to expedite my visa and again worked closely with the University of Rochester to get me out of Kenya despite the burning of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, which delayed and affected many passengers. You worked diligently to see that I’m being taken care of whatever the concern during that crucial time and you continue to do up to date.

The Banaa family and I will greatly miss you for the time you have dedicated to teach voluntarily in Sudan.

Let’s keep in touch.

Sincerely yours,

Salva Kuac

University of Rochester-New York

*To help Ryan in her journey, visit http://www.gofundme.com/RyansRadar 566664_1375297557.8168

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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 http://www.banaa.org or email info@banaa.org.


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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How YOU can get involved!

Banaa is a strategic investment in peace and the Banaa staff are all committed help Banaa expand and fulfill its vision of educating dozens of Banaa Scholars.  As a small group of college students, we could certainly use your help.
We encourage you to get involved in any way that you can.  Banaa has several needs and the following are ways that you may be able to help us:
1) finding highly qualified candidates for the scholarship from the Sudans (applications are sent out in the fall). We especially would like to find women who are eligible for the scholarship, as we have not yet had a female Banaa Scholar.
2) helping our scholars with the transition to the way of life in America (in August and throughout the first year), especially as a college student. One thing that we would like more help with is connecting the scholars with a support base of Sudanese diaspora in the States. In addition to helping scholars adjust to life in the United States, our scholars often need other means of support, including internships and housing during the summer.
3) spreading awareness about Banaa, which can be done by word of mouth, via the internet, etc. One could also write a blog on our website or your own, follow us on twitter and facebook, and share our posts with your friends.
4) fundraising for the various needs of our program by reaching out to people and organizations (like small businesses and religious/community organizations) who may be willing to donate to Banaa.***
5) getting other colleges and universities to provide Banaa scholarships to students. Right now only the University of Rochester and GWU provide Banaa scholarships, and they can only commit to a limited number of scholars. But there are many Sudanese students yearning for higher education who lack the opportunity, and would make great peacemakers if they were given the resources. One of the best ways to bring Banaa to other universities is by starting a student group at your college, or joining a pre-existing group, and using the collective voice of your school’s student body to talk with your college/ university’s administrators about sponsoring a Banaa Scholarship.
If you think you can be of help to us in these ways we would be very appreciative.  Email us at info@banaa.org.
***Right now we are seeking two laptops and cell phones for the two new Banaa Scholars for academic use.  If you can help us obtain  these materials, again please email us at info@banaa.org!

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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 allafrica.com, 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. Banaa.org 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 Banaa.org 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 brian.browne@banaa.org or visit www.banaa.org.

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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