Growing up in South Africa, senior Katie Steckel’s interest in Africa has been long-standing. This year, she decided to spread it to the rest of MU.
“I’ve always had an interest in Africa,” she said. “There’s a lot of potential there. I like potential, but I hate seeing it wasted.”
That was her inspiration to launch the American and Sudanese Youth Alliance at MU. Last Spring, Steckel and a group of friends approached U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., about how they could help with development in Southern Sudan. Brownback referred the women to Sudan Sunrise, a foundation based out of Kansas City, Kan., Steckel said.
Sudan Sunrise is a grassroots organization dedicated to post-conflict reconciliation efforts and enhancing health and education in Southern Sudan. Executive Director Tom Prichard said youth involvement opens a whole new number of possibilities for the cause.
“Often, it’s the younger people with newer visions about how things can be different,” he said. “What’s exciting for us is what’s taking shape at Mizzou. It’s the idea that our goal can be accomplished by building some bridges with American students we can partner with.”
Until this year, Sudan Sunrise had never had a youth branch. Steckel’s correspondence with the organization prompted the creation of a new goal: to form a national youth movement. Because of this, MU is the national founding chapter of the branch.
“When we were linked up with Sudan Sunrise, we had no idea who they were, and they knew very little about us,” she said. “They came to us and said, ‘Hey, we’re trying to start a youth organization, and we were wondering if you would like to be the national founders?’ Of course our answer was yes.”
ASYA’s main focus is to complete the construction of the 41 schools Sunrise Sudan has slated to be built in Southern Sudan. Although the club will not be traveling to the area this year to offer aid, Steckel said she hopes this will happen in the future. Instead, the group will work toward raising funds, hiring and training teachers, obtaining educational materials and installing water filtration systems.
“We feel like our goal is universally accepted,” Steckel said. “There’s not a lot of controversy or politics concerning building schools for very impoverished African children.”
Another of the organization’s primary goals is to support the Darfurian Students Association of the University of Juba in Southern Sudan in its quest to send aid packages to Darfur refugees in a post-conflict reconciliation effort. ASYA’s alliance with the organization requires Steckel to communicate with its members overseas quite often, she said.
“The people I’ve talked to speak English, but obviously not perfectly,” she said. “Since they come from rural areas in Sudan, I’ve been amazed how well their English is. Most of them speak a little Arabic, and I speak a little bit of Arabic too, so we can communicate. Instead of Spanglish, it’s like ‘Arabinglish.’”
In the future, ASYA plans to host a speaker’s series, where a panel will discuss the organization’s movement. Steckel said she hopes to have a student from the Darfurian Students Association on the panel as well, which would be made possible by the group's access to Skype.
Afandy Joseph is a member of the organization, and he said he is optimistic about Southern Sudan’s future.
“Of course there is going to be sustainable peace, acceptance of each and every one in the country and respect of human rights, and the country has to be a civilian-ruled country with freedom,” he said in an e-mail. “I believe that Sudan will be united again, but in other ways, and that will happen maybe after 30 years or more.”
Because of the vast goals the organization wants to accomplish, Steckel said a high number of participants is essential.
“We need all sorts of people to join because it’s such a huge project,” she said. “It’s especially cool to get involved now because we’re creating this big national thing, hopefully.”
ASYA’s first informational meeting is open to anyone and will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the basement of Memorial Union North.