Akuot Deng Leek, a student in Cazenovia College International Studies Program, has a deep-seated interest in an upcoming referendum in South Sudan, her original home
On Jan. 9, southerners in Sudan will vote on whether to become independent or to remain united with the north. The vote comes from a 2005 peace deal that ended Sudan's 21-year civil war.
"Southerners are expected to vote overwhelmingly in favor of separation," said an article from Voice of America (voanews.com), and "a deep mistrust remains between north and south. But there is widespread concern the north will not allow a peaceful separation."
Although she has been termed a Lost Girl of Sudan, Akuot was never actually 'lost,' unlike her older brother, John Dau, of Syracuse. Akuot was born into the Dinka tribe in South Sudan. Her childhood memories are of seemingly endless walking, of hunger, and of constant fear, but she traveled with her mother and other family members. In 2004, she and her mother joined her brother in Syracuse. Not long after that, in 2005, a peace agreement between the north and south was ratified.
Now a United States citizen, and a senior at Cazenovia College, Akuot has focused her life on gaining the education she was denied in Sudan. She is determined to use her education to benefit her country of birth.
Akuot is currently deeply involved in urging members of the news media to be present at Sudanese polling places during the upcoming referendum on the secession of South Sudan, which begins on Jan. 9. With both technical and registration difficulties, the potential for voting fraud is considered to be high.
In a letter to national and international news outlets and agencies, Akuot wrote, "Your presence will mean corruption-free voting. Please do not leave South Sudan on its own during voting because there would be no future for us. The Northern government is good at paying the local people off, but if the world is watching, there are chances that Omar al-Bashir would be afraid. I am counting on the press to help South Sudan succeed."