In 2001, during the brutal South Sudanese civil war, Dak, a teenage boy, was unable to secure space on any of the planes transporting refugees to camps in Ethiopia and Uganda. He and a friend took matters into their own hands.
“I walked 45 days from South Sudan to Ethiopia," he said. "It was not straight walking because we feared for our security. We could hear when the killing would start so we often would veer off the road.”
I met Dak recently in Kampala, Uganda, at a Days for Girls Conference during an almost four-week trip to Africa. He matter-of-factly described his 45-day trek.
“We often went hungry, sometimes going up to two days without eating," said Dak, who is now in his late 20s/early 30s. "It was hard.”
Finally, gratefully, he arrived at a vast, flat, hot, dry, dirt- and fly-laced refugee encampment dotted with tents and mud huts lacking running water, electricity and indoor plumbing. Further, “in Ethiopia, I had no contact with my family for six years.”
However, in the camp he finished secondary school — free education provided by the United Nations and partnering humanitarian groups. This was an enormous boon to him because in most African nations parents must pay their children’s school fees and purchase their uniforms. Far too many parents cannot afford to do so, thereby severely limiting their children’s educational and economic opportunities.
In the camp, Dak met a British humanitarian worker. “We became friends and she promised me that if I finished secondary school and did well she would sponsor my education,” he said. Dak excelled and true to her promise she paid his university fees, and he earned a bachelor’s degree in social work and administration.
Moreover, “My friend was so impressed by my performance she said she would support additional schooling,” he said. In 2015, he was awarded a master’s degree in public administration and management.
One woman’s charitable act transformed Dak’s life.
One Sudanese life spared — meaningless one might argue in the face of a March 2017 report that states, “Nearly 5 million people — more than 40 percent of (South Sudan’s) population — are now at risk of starvation due to a ‘man-made’ famine induced by the war. About a million children across South Sudan are severely malnourished and will die unless they receive immediate help. An estimated 1.5 million people have sought refuge in neighboring countries, while 1.85 million are internally displaced” (see The Enough Project: South Sudan at enoughproject.org/conflicts/south-sudan).
Meaningless? Never. Consider a loving God’s decree, “Ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need. For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have? And now, if God, who has created you, and on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another” (see Mosiah 4:16, 19, 21).
You see, although we sometimes forget, God achieves his purposes for humankind one life at a time,his ultimate goal — “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (see Moses 1:39).
What does God expect of us? He unequivocally taught, “I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:35-40).
And what of Dak? Perhaps he could have gone elsewhere and secured good employment and a more comfortable life. Yet he returned to South Sudan to help and lift others. It has been difficult. His nonprofit organization, “to assist communities with health and sanitation, cultural education, equality issues and problems tied to gender violence” has had little success securing financial support. As a trained social worker, “I am trying to provide counseling services to people who have no money. They’ve lost jobs, families have been broken up, no services are available and businesses cannot flourish.” He did secure a one-year salaried appointment with a nonprofit organization. It ends soon.
Yet Dak affirmed, “I’ve never given up. My dream remains alive to help my people.”
Selflessness, concern for others, is a Christlike virtue and charity is the ultimate indicator of true discipleship. There are myriad ways to help and bless others in today’s world. Like Dak, and so many others, let us seek out opportunities to do good in our own as well as in communities around the world.
Note: Dak was attending a Days for Girls Micro-Enterprise Convention, a gathering of about 60 individuals from five African nations, dedicated to improving the quality and condition of women’s lives. Days for Girls provides reusable feminine hygiene products for women in over 101 countries on six continents and to date has supplied over 660,000 feminine hygiene kits to women around the world. I am one of many volunteers, supporters and advocates of Days for Girls. DfG Micro-Enterprises are also providing jobs and stable employment to women and men in nations where people desperately seek work.