In the second Sudanese civil war Joseph De Mabior Deng, lost his family and found himself among 4 million other displaced refugees.
This fall Makwei will enroll as a freshman at GW. He is a recipient of the University’s first Banaa scholarship, a full scholarship awarded to an individual who has experienced war in Sudan. About 160 people applied for the award this year.
“I would like to study law, and to see the views of different countries through the eyes of U.S. students,” Makwei said. “I’m delighted to be going abroad.”
Banaa, otherwise known as the Sudan Educational Empowerment Network, is a national organization that identifies talented young survivors of the war in Sudan and offers them full undergraduate education at U.S. universities on the condition that these individuals return to Sudan upon graduation and commit to public service.
Makwei, a 22 year-old refugee camp administrator, moved to Kenya in 1992.
Justin Zorn, Banaa’s policy director, said what is special about Makwei is “his personal drive to learn in the face of unthinkable distractions, and to contribute to his community in the face of terrible loss.”
Members of Banaa’s board of advisers that participated in the selection process include of a group of Diaspora leaders, regional specialists and security experts. These individuals worked directly with GW’s Office of Admissions when making their selection.
Jeff Deflavio, Banaa’s managing director, said his organization and the University chose Makwei because “he demonstrated an unmatched understanding of the challenges and prospects for peace in Sudan, as well as a strong commitment to ending the cycles of violence which have plagued Sudan since its founding.”
Zorn said they did not have a specific type of student in mind when reviewing applications, and that Banaa was most interested in finding someone with a strong commitment to preventing future conflict.
“We believe that the atrocities in Sudan have resulted from severely unequal access to resources and Banaa scholars are trained to address these disparities,” he said.
He added, “Makwei demonstrated his commitment through his writing and through his work as an administrator in the Kakuma refugee camp.”
Makwei, like all future Banaa students, will have an academic mentor and an NGO mentor. Paul Churchill, a professor of philosophy at GW will assist Makwei in creating an academic plan that will “maximize his impact as a peacemaker in Sudan,” Zorn said.
While there is no set schedule of classes or majors for Banaa students, it is important that peace making remain their primary goal.
They must be able to justify the relevance of their study plan to long-term peace in Sudan,” Zorn said.
“We were particularly impressed with his interest in building strong legal institutions in Sudan,” he added.
Banaa is now working to expand its program to other universities.
“We are currently working with students, faculty, and administrators from over 20 U.S. universities to create new educational opportunities for Sudanese students,” Deflavio said. “By the end of the decade, we aim to have empowered hundreds of new peacemakers, helping unheard voices find space in the Sudanese political arena.”