Arok Garang, founder of Seeds of South Sudan (SoSS), Roger Vadeen, a dedicated supporter of SoSS, and I journeyed to Kenya in July 2017 with the goal to visit all aspects of our program. We had an ambitious schedule with a number of details to be worked out once we arrived. In Nairobi, we were granted permission to travel to the Kakuma UN Refugee Camp by the Refugee Assistance Service. The camp is the place where SoSS students, most of them orphans of genocide in their home country, are selected into our program and from where Arok himself left for the United States (after spending his formative years in the camp). Our trip was delayed in Lodwar due to a flash flood that obstructed the road to Kakuma. Upon our arrival, the community elders escorted us around the area of Kakuma 1. The camp has a current population of 171,000 people of whom 71% are South Sudanese. A small group of children had been informed that we were there to meet them and to greet Arok, on his first visit since 2014. The hot afternoon passed with 45 stirring interviews, a time for sharing of the small gifts that we had brought for the children, a prayer, and our goodbyes. The day with students was one of the most powerful and humbling days I have spent, ever.
The next morning as we were arranging our transportation back to Lodwar, one of the community leaders said something profound. Gabriel confided that of all the Lost Boys that left for the west and a better life, that Arok was the only one who remembered the refugees left behind in the camp. He went on to say that Arok keeps their hope alive. The respect for Arok runs deep as I was only beginning to see.
As we continued our trip to Nakuru where the Home Base of SoSS and Roots Academy are located, I witnessed the respect and admiration that the high school graduates and the in-country directors, Marial and Deng, hold for Arok. We were able to spend three days getting to know these exceptional young men. Arok’s guiding principle states that the ethical and moral way to create lasting change is to respect and empower people’s capacity to transform their own lives through education—and as a result, offering them opportunities to build a sustainable future. Each of the five young men who graduated this past year have not let their life circumstances get in the way of becoming the best that they can be. Two graduates feel called to enter the seminary, one is prepared for medical school, a fourth student interested in economics and the final high school graduate wants to pursue accounting. Each proclaimed their individual goal in the career path that they have chosen as being able to contribute to the future of South Sudan.
When we visited Roots Academy, where all our students attend primary school, Mr. Aman Wali, director of Roots, lauded Arok and the directors for selecting highly capable and diligent students for the program. In the school of almost 1,000, this year both the head boy and the head girl are a part of the SoSS program. Next, we traveled to Njonjo High School where three of our top female students are enrolled, and had a brief visit with the three young ladies. Each is working very hard to achieve the highest level of success in their academics. Each one remarked on the value of the gift that they have been given by their sponsors, by Arok, and by the board of SoSS. Earlier in the trip we had traveled to the University of Nairobi where our first college scholarship recipient is excelling in his first year of medical school.
Arok’s humility to continually put others’ needs in front of his own is a rare attribute. After spending two weeks in the company of Arok and witnessing the way that he leads through his gentleness, passion, abilities, relationships, attitude, vision, and influence; I understand how he has created and sustained Seeds of South Sudan. Arok’s leadership will continue to enable SoSS to educate, equip, and empower children surviving the genocide to transform their lives. I have profound appreciation for the opportunity to travel a bit of this journey with Arok and Roger. Napoleon was quoted to say “A leader is a dealer in hope.” SoSS has its best leader in Arok Garang.