Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A farewell letter to two friends

I’m warning you right now. This post is not about books or authors. It doesn’t discuss the impending death of poetry, the novel or physical books.

There will be no mentions of iPads, Amazon or vampires.

It will not insult Charles Dickens, James Joyce or my city editor John Bertosa.

This post is about the south of Sudan and two friends who made me care about it.
Let’s start with a link. That’s as good a beginning as any.

Dave Eggers and John Prendergast — not the two friends I’m talking about — wrote a column in The New York Times in which they explain the importance of America and Obama’s administration to Sudan.

I won’t restate their entire argument. That’s what links are for. I will do my best to summarize.

The southern portion of Sudan has had a contentious relationship with its capital, Khartoum, since the country became independent in 1956. This contentiousness (an insufficient term) has often become violent. From 1983 to 2005, more than 2 million people died in a war between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

The U.S. under President Bush helped broker peace between Khartoum and south. One of the promises made in the truce was that the south of Sudan could have a secession vote in January. However, there are indications that the government will stall or undermine the secession vote.

Eggers and Prendergast explain:

If January comes and goes without a referendum, or if the results are manipulated, then fighting will break out. Both sides have been arming themselves since the peace agreement, so this iteration of north-south violence will be far worse than ever before. And if war resumes in the south, the conflict in Darfur, in western Sudan, will surely explode again.

To allow this triumph of international diplomacy to collapse and leave the people of southern Sudan vulnerable is unconscionable. But the questions are stark: what can the United States do to help prevent a war that could cost millions of lives? How can the United States once again influence the behavior of a government willing to commit crimes against humanity to maintain power?

But, now, you ask, why is he telling us this? Because we should care about international peace? Yes, but it’s more specific than that.

In about two weeks, I have two friends, Seth and Sarah Trudeau, who are moving to Nimule in the deep south of Sudan. They will not be overseeing any peace or secession talks. (At least, I don’t think are.) They’re going for the children.

Seth has been visiting and volunteering the Cornerstone Children’s Home for years. Sarah, his wife, made her first trip there more recently.

Cornerstone Children’s Home provides a safe haven to 65 children who have been orphaned, abandoned, severely neglected or abused. Some were orphaned during Sudan’s civil war, while others lost their parents in ruthless attacks by a Ugandan rebel group, Lord’s Resistance Army.

Seth and Sarah will live at and work for Cornerstone. They have started Cornerstone Friends, an organization that provides services to empower the children of Cornerstone and the residents of Nimule to live fruitful lives. (I took that explanation from the foundation’s web site. I figure they can explain it better than me.) They want to help create community-run, community-centered, sustainable, educational and economic opportunities that will benefit Cornerstone’s kids and those living in Nimule.

I don’t want to oversell this, but it takes special people to leave a comfortable life and relocate to the south of Sudan. Yes, we all feel bad for African orphans but how many of us are willing to commit our lives to it?

Well, I’m not asking anyone to commit their life to it. (That would be hypocritical of me.) I’m not even asking you to donate to Cornerstone Children’s Home or Cornerstone Friends. (Not that I would mind if you did.) I’m just asking you to read up a little about the cause. Here are the links for Cornerstone Friends’ web site, blog and Facebook page. For good measure, here is the link to Cornerstone Children’s Home’s blog.

The more you learn about these children and the people trying to help them, the more difficult it will be for you to be indifferent. If you want to give, that’s cool. If you’re the praying kind, I’m sure Seth and Sarah would appreciate that type of support, also.

But it means something if you just talk about it with someone else. People often talk about “raising awareness.” That phrase means nothing. You’re already aware that there are orphans in Africa, that an oil spill happened in the Gulf Coast, and that fatty food is bad for you.

What people are actually saying when they are “raising awareness” is that they want to make you care. I want to make you care about the children at Cornerstone. Moreover, I want you to care about something that matters as much as Seth and Sarah do.

There are millions of important causes. No, really, millions. I have one friend who is trying to establish a nonprofit in the culturally Tibetan region of China, another who works with reformed child soldiers in Uganda. I have friends who volunteer at Project Hope and the Salvation Army in Painesville.

You don’t have to move to Nimule to make a positive difference. You don’t have to quit your job and live an ascetic lifestyle. But you do have to care.

Thank you for hearing me out. I’ll put my soapbox away, now, and we’ll be back to talking about books tomorrow.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

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Blogger Seth Trudeau said...

Thank you Jason for a truly moving letter.

Those of you who are reading this probably really dig books. If you want to get involved in the work Sarah and I are doing, one of our newest projects involves starting a library in Sudan.

This awesome organization called Traveling Stories (http://www.travelingstories.org) has collected literally hundreds of pounds of books for us, and now all we need to do is ship it over. If you'd like to help us to get those books to Sudan, you can donate money directly to Traveling Stories or to us (http://www.cornerstone-friends.org) and mention that it's for shipping books to Sudan.

July 20, 2010 at 3:40 PM 
Anonymous Camille Howells said...

Great letter, Jason! I am honored to know Seth and Sarah as well as Emily from Traveling Stories - all people I aspire to be more like.

July 20, 2010 at 10:19 PM 

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