Crossing Paths

By Daniel Bortz
The Daily Orange, September 9, 2008

John Dau takes a brief pause as he recalls the hardships and obstacles he faced during his 14-year journey from his home village in Sudan to the United States.

"It was not a journey that I should have started, it was not a journey that I was supposed to take," he said. "At some points, desperate, I did not know if I would survive."

Both a Lost Boy of Sudan and a current policy studies student at Syracuse University, 35-year-old Dau created and leads the John Dau Sudan Foundation, a non-profit group aimed at garnering support for the construction of health clinics in Southern Sudan.

This weekend, Lopez Lomong, the Sudanese-born track and field athlete who carried the U.S. flag in the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, announced his support for the JDSF and its initiative of improving health care in Sudan.

Dau distinctly remembers the first time he and Lomong met.

"When we were in northern Kenya in a refugee camp called Kakuma, we were among 90,000 Sudanese," Dau said. "So as you can imagine, a lot of people found it difficult to pin down a friend or talk to someone or find a companion."

Despite communication barriers created by the sheer size of the camp alone, Dau and Lomong overcame their fears and intimidations. They not only befriended each other but also bonded over a shared desire to change their way of life and help others do the same.

Now reunited through Chris Royce of Primerica Financial Services after more than five years spent apart, Dau and Lomong find themselves on the right path – a path aimed at transforming health care in Sudan through donations, support groups and fundraising campaigns.

The 1,000 Koiye Miooc project is the most recent campaign initiated by the JDSF. By garnering support from 1,000 koiye miooc, a Dinka term that means generous persons, Dau hopes to raise enough money to take care of a range of health issues, from doctors and nurses salary to costs for medical supplies and auxiliary workers.

So far, about 30 people have signed up and paid in full, Dau said. The campaign began two weeks ago.

Though the JDSF has received significant funding through donations from other organizations and prominent activists, including $100,000 from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Dau stressed the importance of the individual.

"Lots of our funding comes through small donations, which is something that we value," he said. "I think some other organizations overlook those small, small donors, but you can't underestimate them."

The Sudanese native grew up in the village of Duk County, where the JDSF's first clinic was built in 2007. He arrived in Syracuse in 2001.

"There have been many, many culture shocks that I went through," Dau said. "For example, you may not believe, but this is one I went through: choices. In America, even soda comes as a culture shock. Here, when people ask, 'What would you like to drink?' and you would say soda and be presented with 'Pepsi, Coke, 7UP, Ginger ale,' ... it came as a shock because when we were in the refugee camp we chose nothing. You got what you got."

He said seeing women driving cars and seeing people even owning their own cars - rather than the government owning all motor vehicles - were things he never thought he would see.

While Dau is pleased with how far the organization has come, he said at this point it would be premature to say that he and the others involved with the JDSF have accomplished what they intended to do when creating the foundation.

Now, with Lomong's help, who is expected to speak with members of the JDSF in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs today, Dau hopes to expand the foundation's scope, starting with the construction of more clinics in Southern Sudan.

"We can do more," Dau said. "We can do more than just one clinic because we have seen the impact of that first clinic, and we can replicate that. How many lives will be saved? How many people will be freed from all those places that keep people hostage? We are still on the brink of where we started."