After attending a Committee on Conscience symposium about the genocide in Darfur, a group of students at The George Washington University decided to become involved in the movement to end mass atrocities in Sudan. Their goal was to bring long term development to Sudan and thus started with a crucial resource: Sudanese citizens.
“We founded Banaa.org, an organization which matches Sudanese survivors of atrocity with scholarship opportunities in the United States,” organization member Jeff DeFlavio explains. Banaa is an Arabic word meaning to build or create. According to Jeff, all the applicants are “highly qualified students who are working for peace in Sudan and want to further their education. Empowered with a university degree, Banaa Scholars return to Sudan with the technical skills necessary to address the complex causes of conflict in the region.”
Long-term development in Sudan is essential. While aid like emergency relief is crucial, it does not build local or sustainable capacity. Jeff notes that, “while there has been intense international advocacy on behalf of Sudan’s voiceless war victims, very few programs seek to give these victims voice in Sudan or abroad.” As a result, most of the organizations working in Sudan are foreign and lack the language and cultural knowledge to effect change at a grassroots level. Banaa seeks to reverse this trend and provide education and training to native Sudanese peacemakers.
The first Banaa.org scholar, Makwei Mabioor Deng, is now studying at The George Washington University. Makwei is a 22 year old from Southern Sudan. In 1992 when he was just six years old, his village came under attack and he and his family fled to Kenya where he grew up in a refugee camp. He is currently studying Arabic, economics, and sociology at GWU, and upon completion of his degree will return to Sudan to work on long term development and peace-building initiatives.
Next year Banaa hopes to place at least five more Sudanese survivors of atrocity in American universities. They are currently seeking funding to establish a national office and educate more peacemakers. Banaa believes that, “in order to make a strategic impact for peace in Sudan we must empower dozens of young students with the tools necessary to break cycles of violence in their homeland.”
To learn more about Banaa.org please visit the website at http://www.banaa.org.