Gabriel Boldang has not seen his family in over 20 years.
Boldang doesn't know if his parents and siblings are alive or not. He was separated from them during the civil warfare in his native Sudan. Boldang spoke of his journey from Sudanese "lost boy" to American citizen in a presentation to students in Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES' new alternative high school program, taught out of the Career Training Center off Morgan Road in Liverpool, last Friday. After his speech, the students launched 500 red balloons heavenward, one to commemorate each life lost in the Sudan every day. The balloon launch was held to raise awareness of the continuing genocide in the African country's Darfur region and was organized by the alternative high school's student council.
"It's important for us to study events in the world, not just books," said Pam Hogan, social studies teacher and student council adviser. "We need to bring the reality of it to the students."
The reality of the humanitarian disaster in Darfur certainly seems real to the students at BOCES now. The students completed a unit on the genocide and the preceding civil war in order to prepare for Boldang's appearance and the balloon launch. They expect to continue to aid Boldang's efforts to build schools in Africa.
"Before we studied it, not many [of the students] knew about the genocide," Hogan said. "But now they're really passionate about making people aware of it and bringing it to an end. They want to change the world."
Once they learned of the genocide, the students decided to take action to raise awareness of it and hopefully spark a drive for aid to the country. The student council, led by President Cameron Mistietta, came up with the balloon launch, which provided a moving and tangible reminder of the havoc wrought by civil war in the Sudan. The biodegradable balloons were provided by Balloons Over Syracuse.