South Sudanese Student Heads Home to Build Schools
Nyoul Tong, Age 20
As a child, Nyoul Tong fled a civil war in his home country of Sudan and became a refugee. His family fled to Egypt, where he got the opportunity to go to high school in the U.S. Today, he studies at Duke University and has founded the organization SELF Sudan - a nonprofit dedicated to building schools and building community partnerships in the newly founded country of South Sudan.
NewsHour Extra spoke with Nyoul about his organization, the work he's doing and the future of South Sudan.
Why this Student Spoke Out
South Sudan suffered through much violence and a brutal civil war on its way to becoming an independent country on July 9, 2011. The young nation is in need of infrastructure, especially education options for its young people.
What is the mission of SELF Sudan?
Our mission is to build schools of scholarship, leadership, citizenship and power for the people of South Sudan. We started building the first school this summer. We have a field team that is overseeing the construction and we also have the community that we are building the school in serving as partners.
What motivated you to take on this project?
One of the motivations was my experience, my personal experience. I was born in South Sudan, grew up in the war and then fled to Northern Sudan. I became a refugee and then got a scholarship to come to the U.S. to study for high school. Then I got another scholarship to go to Duke University, so I guess my whole journey is what informs and inspires (the project).
Click below to listen to Nyoul talk about his hopes for the future and why he believes education is the key to a healthy society.
About 80% of the population in South Sudan is illiterate and we just became a country, so I believe that without education, the future of the country is unpredictable and we might not be the country that we want to be: an independent country, a country that is responsible for its growth and development. My hope is to build two schools every year after we finish with this school, so I don’t plan on just building one school. In the future, my hope is to really expand and go beyond my village and to partner with other communities because eventually, I want the communities to take charge of the school’s operation and sustainability. We have to have systems in place that will enable the communities to run the school on their own after six years.
Click below to listen to Nyoul talk about South Sudan's road to independence and where things stand today.
What were the major challenges in getting this project off the ground?
Getting money was a bit challenging because South Sudan is not the most stable country. So while the vision was clear and the plan was articulated and people could see and work through it, it was difficult to sell it because they know the reality in South Sudan is that there is no stability, there is no security. So that was one challenge, to really convince people to donate to something that might not work because of the realities in the country. Another challenge was really starting the construction in South Sudan. South Sudan just came out of war so it doesn’t have infrastructure and all the industrial construction materials that we need. So we had to start outside the country, we had to go to the big cities which are far away so that was challenging. The infrastructure is terrible so there is no transportation, the roads are not paved so everything was a challenge. I think it’s a logistical nightmare to build a school in South Sudan but it’s necessary.
The pictures below show the construction of SELF Sudan's first school building, currently underway.Click on the photos to enlarge them.
Nyoul Tong currently attends Duke University where he is studying philosophy and literature. He is the founder of SELF Sudan, an organization "that seeks to establish schools of leadership, scholarship, and citizenship in South Sudan."