Abraham Deng Ater, who received his B.S. in Health Sciences degree with a major in Physiology, recently has been in the news for his work to build schools in the Sudan.
Upon his graduation in May of 2006 he was awarded the Physiology Department's Wildcat Award for having the persistence to succeed in the face of great adversity and in December of 2006 Abraham proudly became a US citizen. In the fall of 2008, Abraham was accepted into the College of Public Heath and is pursuing his Masters of Public Health Degree.
An online “UA News” release on October 28, 2008 describes Abraham’s work, with help from two other UA alumni, to establish a foundation that is raising money to build three schools in his native Sudan. Student, Alumni Working to Build Schools in Sudan This website also provides links to websites for the Deng Ater Foundation – Lost Boys Schools for Sudan and to a video interview and audio PodCast with Abraham in which he describes his Schools for Sudan project.
Abraham was among a large group of young boys, known as the “Lost Boys,” who fled their African country of Sudan in 1987 when it was torn by civil war. Some boys were as young as five when their journey began. Now they say they were not “lost,” just displaced, traveling in large groups from the Sudan to Ethiopia, then to a refugee camp in Kenya. In the spring of 2001, Abraham was among the fortunate ones to receive refugee status and was resettled in Tucson.
In 2006, Abraham shared with us his “Journey of a Lifetime” – “Nineteen years ago we fled Sudan in search of refuge and education, for we were deprived the right to attend school in our own country. We traveled for years and over 1000 miles from village to village, city to city, and country to country, barefooted and in fear of being enslaved or killed. Thousands among us died of starvation or animal attacks, thus I felt fortunate to end up here in this country, especially at the UA. In every city or every country where we took refuge, we had to build a school the next morning after we arrived and when asked why? we replied, “Education is my mother and father” and when asked where is your mother and father? we said the same thing. [The boys all thought their parents had died so all they had in the world was education, and that it would help them.] Upon my arrival in this country in 2001, I tried to absorb as much education as possible, but my inner emotional stress never let up on me once more. Therefore, I had to work hard to support myself and my relatives that I left behind and go to school at the same time to accomplish that goal.”
Abraham returned to his native Sudan in 2007 to search for his family. There he was reunited with his mother and two sisters, but his father and brother both died in the war. Abraham found the infrastructure in the country’s southern region almost completely dismantled due to civil wars and poverty. The educational system in this region is particularly impoverished with the lowest rate worldwide of students completing primary school (according to a UNICEF report). Abraham and two of his friends, Donald Ray Dains and Diane Marie Dains - both 2004 College of Fine Arts graduates and honors students – have established the nonprofit Deng Ater Foundation – Lost Boys Schools for Sudan. The goal of the foundation is to raise funds to build three primary and secondary schools in southern Sudan. To build the first school, the foundation needs at least $80,000. The foundation’s impressive website describes fund raising efforts and additional goals for programs that will help to shape the future for the children of Southern Sudan.
Abraham Deng Ater’s “Journey of a Lifetime,” which is based on his idea of pursuing an education, is now being extended to help his native country’s children receive their education. And he is pursuing this new goal with the spirit that won him the Physiology Wildcat Senior Award in 2006, a spirit characterized by perseverance, resiliency, and a positive attitude in striving to overcome obstacles and hardships.