Jok Nhial grew up in the small village of Alian in the state of Jonglei in what is current day South Sudan. He learned to write by drawing with his finger in the dirt. Through a series of life-changing events, he graduated with degrees in sociology and political science from Gonzaga University, received the Multicultural Honor for academic achievement, and earned an award from the university’s Comprehensive Leadership Program. If anyone understands the value of an education, it is Jok Nhial.
40 years of civil war tormented Sudan leaving hundreds of thousands dead and villages torn apart. The history of war in Sudan is long and dire. The government of Islamic, Arab Sudan and Christian African rebels in the South fought for years upon racial and religious divided lines. The “Lost Boy” story begins with an all out raid on Jok and rebel leader John Garang’s villages. This violence along with a decree by the late leader of Sudan, Suwar al-Dahab, to kill all boys in the area forced Jok and over 30,000 other children to flee their families. Jok was 6 years old. For years, Jok walked from refugee camp to refugee camp as they were constant targets for Sudanese shelling and rations ran low. In 1997, he made the treacherous journey from Sudan to a United Nations-supported refugee camp in Kenya. For the next several years, Jok and thousands of other “Lost Boys” lived and attended school at the refugee camp.
The opportunity of a lifetime came in 2001 when Jok was offered a ticket to the United States along with other young, single males in the refugee camp. He came to Tacoma, Washington where he attended Foss high school and excelled despite having to learn in English (his second language) and adjust to the culture shock of moving from a small village in Sudan to all that is the USA. Despite the many hardships (and the amazing sacrifice of a 28 year old single mom who fostered Jok and his brother), he attained a scholarship to Gonzaga University.
In 2008, Jok founded the LEP with the goal of improving education and building leaders in his homeland, a homeland that rivals any country in the world in illiteracy and lack of educational opportunities.
After graduation, Jok moved back to Tacoma to work for a non-profit organization tutoring struggling students. Jok had not been to Africa since departing in 2001. He had not seen his mother since he left for the United States and his father and most of his brothers and sisters since he fled his home at age 6. Because of the generosity of a few donors to the LEP, Jok was able to return home for the holidays in December of 2011. He was able to spend Christmas in his village with his family, as well as set the stage for future Liliir Education Project endeavors.
I am immensely lucky to have met Jok while attending Gonzaga. He has witnessed more of the destructive nature of humanity in the first half of his life then many will see in two lifetimes, yet he remains positive, loving, and generous. His belief in humanity, given his life story is a testament to his character. Jok lives with a calmness that stems from a deep rooted belief that nothing in our everyday life can be that horrible as long as we are alive. With a deep appreciation for the empowerment that education provides, Jok is committed to helping the area he comes from create more educational opportunities.
Jok was given the chance to dream, a chance he know aspires to create, through education, for his brothers and sisters back home.
-Brent McCann (President-Board of Directors)