How Project Education South Sudan Began
In 2001, Carol & Rich Rinehart became one of many mentoring “parents” to over 12 “Lost Boys of Sudan” in Denver, Colorado. It all began with a request for a bicycle, which Carol delivered to the home of Isaac Khor Bher two months after his arrival to the U. S. from Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya. The invitation to deliver a bicycle turned into a life changing commitment to assist the young men by providing nurturing support.
In December 2004 Isaac Khor Bher discovered in an on-line Washington Post article a picture of his deceased father. This happened only one month before the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement allowing South Sudan autonomy from the North and to participate in the newly created Unity Government. Carol contacted the photographer and inquired if a copy could be sent to Isaac to hang in his home in memory of his father. The Washington Post sent not only a photocopy of Isaac’s father, but a photo of his mother who was alive! Funds from friends were raised in two weeks to bring Isaac home to Sudan to find his mother. “Mama” Carol and Isaac traveled to South Sudan in May 2005 and reunited him with his “found “mother, Mama Yar!
While dodging landmines and being detained for 5 weeks in Sudan from flooding waters, Isaac and Carol were able to meet with the elders and chiefs of his village, Konbek, and the village of Maar. The 20-year war had taken a devastating toll on the land and the people. There were no roads, clean water wells, electricity, latrines, or any type of health care. There was a shortage of food and a multitude of illnesses that weighed heavily on the people. Yet, in spite of all the suffering, their plea for education rang loud and clear. Isaac and Carol returned home to Denver with a mission and a promise to fulfill: to help communities build schools in South Sudan. In October 2005 Project Education South Sudan was formed.
Reunification of Lost Boys
PESS’ work to reunite Lost Boys with their families in South Sudan has led to a very unique relationship with the three communities that the Lost Boys we have reunited are from. To date, PESS has helped bring together the families of the following young men:
Isaac Khor Bher, 2005; Luol Awok, Panther Abu Kuol, and Ayuel Yiep Koch, 2007; Daniel Majok Gai, Jacob Lueth, and John Abraham Panchol, 2008
By helping Lost Boys reconnect with the families they thought they may never see again, PESS has achieved the trust of these communities, allowing us to support the communities in building schools in their villages that were destroyed in the war. Our vision started small, focusing on Isaac’s village of Konbek. It quickly became clear that we could not limit our resources to one village and we expanded. PESS now works in three villages of reunited Lost Boys: Konbek, Maar, and Pagook. Our mission is to provide the South Sudanese in these villages with the resources that they have been deprived of for so many years, while also allowing them to be partners in the work we do in order to instill a sense of ownership in the project. Reunifying the Lost Boys with their families in South Sudan distinguishes PESS from other similar organizations around the country. We feel that the privilege of being part of the reunification has allowed our group to establish a closer working relationship with the South Sudanese and to build lasting relationships with the Lost Boys’ villages.