NEWARK — The Newark High School Interact Club recently sponsored an innovative and whimsical fundraiser resulting in it raising $348 in contributions from students and school staff for a very worthwhile cause — helping to build primary schools in South Sudan.
Interact President Megan Kreuser, an NHS senior, is thrilled because that amount exceeded the club’s initial goal of raising $100 to benefit Building Minds in South Sudan (BMISS).
Interact received donations from NHS students and staff who voted with money, during recent lunch periods for several days, on which of five different staff groups they wanted to perform at the end of a BMISS assembly May 16 at NHS.
BMISS is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities to African villagers in South Sudan. The organization seeks to restore hope by providing education for people adversely affected by conflict in Sudan.
At a compelling early-morning assembly May 16, Sebastian Maroundit, president and co-founder of BMISS, passionately outlined the organization’s mission. With good reason.
He was 9 years old in 1988 when the rural village of Mayen-Abun in Twic County, South Sudan he lived in with his family was suddenly attacked by gun-toting militia as part of the country’s civil war. Maroundit watched in horror as his 5-year-old sister was shot and his mother, in terror, advised him to flee or meet the same fate as his sister.
“She said run or you’ll be like her,” Maroundit told his NHS audience May 16.
After civil war broke out in1983, villages were attacked and most of the adults in the villages were killed. Maroundit’s mother watched her husband be tortured to death before her eyes as a result of the war.
Young Sudanese women and mature girls were kidnapped, raped, and murdered. Over 2 million lives were lost in the conflict, but nearly 23,000 children escaped death or enslavement by crossing the desert and bush country of the Sudan on foot. Their amazing story, was chronicled in a documentary by former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw. About 10-minutes of it was shown at the beginning of the assembly before Maroundit began speaking.
“I was one of the lucky ones, thousands didn’t make it,” he said.
Maroundit and his cousin, Mathon Noi, who were both 9 when they fled their village and walked for three months on a long, dangerous journey until they found safety at relief camp in Ethiopia only to experience war there within three years.
They tried to return to the Sudan, but with war continuing there, they escaped from Ethiopia in 1991 and spent a year walking across the hot desert to a refugee camp in Kenya. There, both were educated through the 8th grade.
In 2001, they were two of 3,800 selected for resettlement in the United States. Both came to Rochester and with obvious language barriers, learned to adjust to American culture and attended Monroe Community College.
In the summer of 2007, after becoming American citizens, the cousins returned to their village in Sudan. Though Sebastian lost his father during the war and Mathon lost his mother, they were reunited with their surviving parents after 18 years apart. They were dismayed to find their village in poor condition, with no roads or clean water. The children of the village were being educated under a large tree, because the school had been destroyed.
Since that visit, they have been passionately committed to helping rebuild hope in their village by building two modest school buildings where now 805 students, including 300 girls, are receiving basic education.
Noi, who earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Niagara University and works as a financial analyst with Citicorp in Buffalo is co-founder of BMISS. Maroundit is a cashier trainer/bookkeeper at Strong Hospital and has been pursuing bachelor’s degree in management from SUNY Brockport.
Each are frequent speakers throughout the region in hopes of raising awareness and funds in hopes of advancing BMISS goals that are:
“To build primary schools, first in the village of Mayen-Abun in South Sudan, and then beyond.
“To provide gender equity through promoting education for girls
“To advance people’s ability to realize their full human potential and development
“To provide village with a central hub (the school), which will restore the sense of community
“To train teachers, with cooperation of State government, improving the quality of education in Mayen-Abun village and beyond.
“To encourage the sponsorship of the children who are doing well at school.”
Kreuser, said Interact Club, “the high school version of Rotary Club” that does two fundraisers each year, picked BMISS to raise money for because they’d heard really good things the organization.
Maroundit has previously spoken locally, including at the Newark Rotary Club. Newark Rotarian Linda Werts did volunteer work in his village in the Sudan.
Kreuser said feedback about the BMISS assembly has been positive.
“I think kids really liked him (Maroundit) because he was interesting and different and they could relate to things he said and the answers he gave them to their questions like about cheeseburgers and snow,” she said.
To have Maroundit speak to a club, organization, church or school, call (585) 442-5111. For more information about BMISS, visit