UMF Student Starts South Sudan School Lunch Program

Posted: September 23, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Junub Sudan

09/23/2011 Reported By: Tom Porter
Aruna Kenyi in the MPBN Portland Studio Like many university students, University of Maine at Farmington Senior Aruna Kenyi went home over the summer to see his family. Unlike most students, though, Kenyi’s journey took him half way around the world to his native Sudan – or to be more precise to what used to be Sudan and is now the newly independent Republic of South Sudan. It was 22-year old’s first trip home in 16 years, where he is on a personal crusade to set up a school lunch program in his home town.
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School Children in Kansuk, South Sudan

When Aruna Kenyi visited his birthplace of Kansuk in South Sudan this summer, the memories came flooding back: memories of how, as a five-year-old boy, he, along with his three brothers got separated from their parents when civil war broke out and the militia came to his village.

Happily his parents also survived the civil war, but it was to be more than 16 years before he was to them again. As one of Sudan’s so-called "Lost Boys," Kenyi, along with his brothers, wandered from village to village fleeing war and famine.

"When the civil war started in southern Sudan and hit my village, we kind of moved out of the village and travelled to different villages in southern Sudan, and we ended up in a camp in Uganda," Kenyi said. "That’s where we filled the applications for coming to the US. And in November 2003, we finally were moved to the US. The first state that we lived in was Virginia, and after that we moved to Maine because we knew some people that used to live in the camp with, that lives in Maine so we decided to move here."

After graduating from Portland High, he went to University of Maine at Farmington, where he majors in Community Health Education. But Kenyi has never lost the connection he feels to his homeland. He voted in elections for South Sudanese independence earlier this year. And as part of his studies, Kenyi resolved to travel home and work on setting up a high school lunch program in Kansuk.

"I really feel the need that if children are fed they are more likely to learn better, and perform better in school," said Kenyi. "It also improves their health. So I went there with the thought of wanting to start a school lunch program, but it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to be. I didn’t have enough funding to start the program."

Kenyi set an ambitious goal of raising $90,000. That’s the cost of providing a daily meal for all 500 kids at the local high school for one year. With the $2,600 he did raise, Kenyi bought water containers so the students have access to clean drinking water, and he set up a sponsorship program so that the unpaid volunteer teachers at the village kindergarten can get actually get paid. During his trip, Kenyi discovered that the children needed a lot more than school lunches:

"We they have so much need at this school. Needs such as library – they don’t have textbooks at this school," he said. "There are about one textbook for one class, and they don’t even have enough chairs and tables for students. Some students sit on the floor at this school."

There’s also a critical shortage of teachers, with average class sizes of about 100. But Kenyi’s number one concern remains the school nutrition program. He said there are currently no school lunches provided which means many kids have nothing to eat all day.

Aruna Kenyi: "So they go from eight to four, and once they get home they get to eat something if there is food at home. But at school there is no food."

Tom Porter: "No food at all."

AK: "No food. So the students sometimes at lunchbreak they get an hour for lunch. For most students, the distance from school to home is about two hours."

TP: "So they can’t go home for lunch, they have an hour free where they have just be hungry."

AK: "Right, and a lot of them just decide to go home and not back to school."

Aruna Kenyi said he’s determined to push ahead with more fund-raising to meet the goal of setting up a school lunch program in Kansuk. Beyond that, he hopes this will provide a model for other districts in South Sudan to do the same. One day, Kenyi plans to return to his country to work as a teacher.

The Sudanese School Lunch Program on facebook

To donate, visit this website and write "Kenyi" in the designation box

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