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Essex High School graduates, Duane Peterson III, and Calvin Elmore, traveled with the Sudan Development Foundation with founder Abraham Awolich to South Sudan to document the work of the foundation and the local community of Kalthok.
Their resulting film, a SUDEF documentary short “Grace Under Pressure – The Story of Kalthok” was shown at Essex Cinemas in September. About 150 attended.
Abraham Awolich, of Burlington, first left his family in 1988 after government-sponsored militias attacked his village of Kalthok, in South Sudan. He fled to Ethiopia, and then back to Sudan where attacks came again in 1992. This time he left on foot running. He lived as a refugee for nine years before settling in Vermont.
Today Awolich has a Masters degree in Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He was a winner of the World Bank Development Marketplace grant competition for $200,000 in 2007 to build a high school in Southern Sudan. He was also awarded the Samuel Huntington Public Service Award by the National Grid after his graduation in 2006.
Four years ago, Awolich founded the Sudan Development Foundation (SUDEF), with several Burlington area Sudanese diasporas. By 2007, the foundation raised enough money to build a medical clinic in Kalthok, a rural village that serves a population of over 25,000.
The clinic is entirely run and operated by the local community in Kalthok, South Sudan.
SUDEF board member Julie Elmore, of Westford, said the film was created to build awareness. “A few people I talked with were unfamiliar with our organization, and they found the film helpful,” Elmore said. “In particular, they loved that our projects are community owned and operated.”
About $2,000 was raised at the special filming in Essex for SUDEF. The foundation raises between $15,000 to $25,000 annually.
“Courage and grace were two themes on our trip to South Sudan,” Elmore said. “The courage these people have, in light of what they have to face every day … there is laughter and life. There is daily living that exists while they are going through great hardships.”
Calvin Elmore, 18, was in charge of audio for the film. Village life in Sudan was much different than life in his hometown of Westford. “They enjoy life more than we do,” he said.
Photographer Duane Peterson III, 18, of Essex said he was particularly moved by one interview with an elderly man. “I filmed him between two piles of leaves burning,” he said. “There are a lot of things there that are burning, the grassland, the trash … he said having the clinic was good. He said you see children running around now, before they died off in large numbers.”
Awolich said people were dying needlessly before the clinic. Its development is not about becoming dependent on aid, it’s helping people to find ways to build what they need, and to become sustainable, he said.
“We work in cooperation with the people,” Awolich said. “We provided materials, but they build it, manage it, and work to generate enough resources to take care of itself.”
Awolich said what is happening in the village is a step in the right direction. “We are beginning to see progress, but the resources are definitely not sufficient for the projects we need to implement. I would love to see the film get out. They did a good job. It’s a great film made in not so great conditions.”
For more information visit www.sudef.org.
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