SUDEF Collaborates With Students To Raise Awareness Of South Sudan Clinic

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A Burlington-based organization that works to improve the quality of life in South Sudan is getting some help from students at the Vermont Commons School.

The students have teamed up with the Sudan Development Foundation to create a video that they hope will generate interest on the Internet.

The nine students are running through the presentation they’ll give this week about how they came to make a video for the Sudan Development Foundation, or SUDEF.

"It’s a way that the younger generation can deal with it, too. It’s not like I have $200 to donate to charity. But I do have a lot of Facebook friends to share it with," one students says.

"How many views do we have?" asks another.

"Over a thousand," answers their teacher.

Their 4-minute video was made to be shared through social media sites to raise awareness of the cause.

In addition to footage of babies and children dancing in South Sudan, it features Peter Keny, who lives in Burlington and works with SUDEF.

"Almost 20 years ago, my village was attacked by Sudanese militia. As a seven-year-old I fled with hundreds of children, along with my cousin Abraham Awolich," Keny says in the video.

Awolich and Keny became refugees and were eventually settled in Burlington, which now has a thriving population of Sudanese.

After graduating from school, Awolich went back to Sudan in the midst of a cholera outbreak, and he realized there was a need for medical assistance. He started SUDEF to raise money for his native village. But, Keny says, the goal grew larger:

"Why can’t we incorporate this into a clinic? Just build a clinic instead of sending medicine?" Keny said.

So they did. The clinic now serves 11 villages. And now they’ve built a maternal and child health unit. But as Keny notes in the video, they’re not done yet:

"Hundreds of lives have been saved by our work with the people of Kalthok. But there is much more work to be done." Keny says.

Keny says the community in South Sudan helps drive the mission.

"We are trying the best we can. But people in the community are very helpful, and with their help, that’s how we’ve been succeeding so far," Keny says.

And now they’re getting help from their adopted community in Vermont. Tenth-grade students at the Vermont Commons School made the video as part of a project that challenges students to find local solutions to global problems. They used video footage from a longer documentary about the clinic. They hope their video will go viral and funds will start pouring in

Teacher Mark Cline Lucey says he partnered with SUDEF to help students in his Global Studies class get first hand knowledge of health issues abroad.

In addition to the nuts and bolts of making a video, Cline Lucey says the students have learned to collaborate with each other and with SUDEF.

"In a world where communication is becoming more and more important and digital communication is becoming the means of communication, they’re learning to use digital media to get a message across, a persuasive message," Cline Lucey explains.  

Students in the class, such as Nora Hill of Jericho, are excited about the prospect of helping out the cause.

"I had no idea, I knew nothing about SUDEF before doing this. So, really, learning about their cause and getting to know Peter’s story, and learning about the amazing things they’re doing there was really my favorite part," Hill says.

Alexis O’Keefe of Georgia hopes the video helps get the message out to other young people:

"I feel best when I’m helping people and when I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile. So I really want to do something like that with my life," she says.

And teacher Mark Cline Lucey says he hopes students have taken away a bigger lesson:

"I hope that they’ve realized and learned that they can have an impact on their world, that they are not just students that they are actors and agents in their own world and that they’ve make a difference," Cline Lucy explains.

And so far that seems to be happening. The video has led to donations, as well as helping to connect SUDEF with other like-minded organizations.

The students will present their video at 9:45 Wednesday morning at Vermont Commons School in South Burlington.  

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