Literary Activism

Harriet Levin Millan

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lea Remembers

Today as I sat editing footage from the 2009 Reunion Project I wondered when James and Mary would be taking their trip back to Sudan to be reunited with their families. Although this is not the first time that the Writing Program has worked to raise awareness about the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, this year was particularly special because we were able to send two people back to be reunited with their families, instead of just one.

This year, the Drexel University Writing Program led a Read-A-Thon to raise money to reunite a Lost Boy or Girl with his or her family. Students took pledges of around $10 per book and could read up to 100 books from a list of works focusing on the crisis in Sudan, African folktales, genocide, and more. In the meantime, Sudanese Lost Boys and Girls applied to the Reunion Project by writing essays, explaining how the trip home would affect them and help them with their lives in the United States.

When the essays started coming in, I was lucky enough to be one of the writing tutors assigned to read them. The stories were heartbreaking. Each person described in detail the trauma of being separated from their families and their homes. There were passages about losing friends and siblings, missing meals for days at a time, and coming close to death itself. I knew that it would be nearly impossible to pick a "winner" out of the participants in the Reunion Project, but we moved forwards nonetheless.

When I met with participant, James Deng, I knew that his story must be heard. We spoke for a while over coffee about his essay—about his life then and about his life now. Although it was my job to help James revise his writing, it was difficult to critique such an emotional story. We mainly focused on adding more description—which was difficult since James was only about 5 when he was separated from his mother and couldn’t remember all the details.

While writing tutors were reading the essays, other participants in the Reunion Project were doing their best to raise money to support the cause. Six Drexel University students who formed a genocide awareness group teamed up with the University Writing Program and Center for Civic Engagement who co-sponsored a “Jam against Genocide” benefit concert on May 5th from 7 to 10 PM. Also, in honor of Mother’s Day, postcards with original designs by a Drexel writing tutor, Sarah Solomon, were sold to raise money.

On May 19th, 2009, the final decisions were announced at The “Lost Boys” of Sudan Reunion Project Celebration. James Deng and Mary Ayom took the stage and spoke about their experiences, reading from their winning essays. Also taking the stage were Michael Kuch, last year’s Reunion Project award recipient, College of Arts and Science Dean, Donna Murasko, and Drexel University’s Senior Vice President for Finance and Treasurer, Tom Elzey, who presented the final check for $10,000 to James and Mary. The audience was filled with all different types of people; there were students who helped raise funds, members of the community, and friends of the recipients.

Sitting among all of the people who worked so closely with this project, I couldn’t help but feel that I was a part of something special. The respect that I felt for James and Mary was only augmented by my admiration of the people that chose to help fight for this cause. The Reunion Project Celebration was a perfect culmination to months of fundraising. Taking time to revisit the project now, I am even more eager to find out about James’ and Mary’s trip back to Sudan.

Stay tuned for more!