Sep 30, 2013 Joe Genco Uncategorized
In America most people don’t have to worry about problems such as measles, malaria, blindness or malnutrition. People in places like South Sudan aren’t so fortunate.
About 200 people gathered at the Skaneateles Country Club on Sept. 29 to be inspired by the story of the work done at the Duk medical clinic in South Sudan.
The event, a fundraiser for the John Dau Foundation, included a screening of the documentary “Duk Country.”
The film follows several ophthalmologists as they travel to the Duk clinic in Duk County of South Sudan to perform surgeries for people who have lost their vision to either cataracts or trachoma.
The doctors perform surgeries and restore sight to 288 people over the course of their one-week stay.
At one point in the film Dau, on screen, breaks down after seeing a woman singing and dancing after having her eyesight restored. The woman had traveled two days to get to the clinic with the assistance of her young granddaughter, her only other remaining family member.
Much of the South Sudanese population suffers from treatable and preventable ailments due to lack of proper nutrition, medical care and vaccinations. The film described going blind as a “death sentence” and stated that of the 34 million blind people in the world about 80 percent of the cases are preventable or treatable.
South Sudan, a recently established nation, has been embattled by inter-tribal violence, according to the film. Rival tribes will attack each other killing women and children, herds of cattle and burning down villages. The national police and United Nations peace-keeping forces can do little to contain these outbursts of violence and as a result the local people struggle to grow enough food to survive and are afraid of traveling.
Dau was originally one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” a group of orphaned young men who were forced to make a mass exodus out of Sudan to avoid death during the civil war of the 1980s. After escaping to Etheopia he was able to relocate to Syracuse in 2001 through the help of international AIDS organizations. Since then he has earned a college education and started the foundation to help his people.
Duk Payuel, where Dau was born, has become Skaneateles’ sister village with various community members and groups working to provide aid to the Sudanese village.
Jack Howard, chair of the foundation’s board, started off the evening by announcing that if the attendees of the event were able to raise $20,000, an anonymous donor had agreed to match that amount with another donation.
Dau spoke to introduce the film and commended the community for being so supportive of his efforts to help his homeland. He said that people often have often asked him why he settled in Syracuse after escaping Sudan as a young man.
“Why did you go to Central New York, it is very cold and really snowy?” he said. “I tell them the people in the Central New York-area, in the Syracuse-area and in the Skaneateles and Cazenovia-areas, are very warm.”
While the film highlighted some of the work done by the foundation and the clinic, more funding is needed to reach their next set of goals Medical Directors Barbara Connor, of Skaneateles, and David Reed, of Cazenovia, said.
The foundation is an unusual success story of a locally based Non-Governmental Organization succeeding, Reed said. And since the most of the board of directors was present, people can know their donations are important. “Every dollar you donate gets to these people and helps save a life,” he said.
The next mission for the clinic is to help it become autonomous by training more Sudanese people to work there. They also want to purchase a vehicle to be used as an ambulance. The region gets heavy rain for much of the year and it can become hard to travel by foot, so a vehicle would help get more people to the clinic, Reed said.
Documentary films have been an essential piece of the success of the foundation by helping spread the work about the work that the foundation does, Connor said. The first documentary about the foundation and the lost boys “God Grew Tired of Us,” was honored at the Sundance Film Festival and elsewhere. “Duk Country,” is currently making the rounds to film festivals around the worlds and has gotten similar recognition thus far, she said.
Rev. Craig Lindsey of First Presbyterian Church of Skaneateles passed around a basket for donations and donated works of art were also for sale at the event to benefit the foundation.
Also in attendance at the event were six Skaneateles High School students. Through the school’s Interact Club, they helped to design and sell a shirt to benefit the foundation and arranged to have the film “God Grew Tired of Us” screened at the school. They presented Dau with a check for $1,540, and said that they had been “extremely inspired” by the work at the clinic.
For more information on the John Dau Foundation and to learn how to donate, visit johndaufoundation.org.
Joe Genco is the editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.