(reposted from http://pacodes.blogspot.com/)
By Erin Wood
of the Journal Star
Posted Jul 24, 2008 @ 09:40 PM
EAST PEORIA —
Many college students have a hard time committing to weekend plans, let alone a pledge to rebuild a community in Sudan.
But recent Illinois Central College graduate Matt Hoffman vowed to make a difference - one book at a time - in the lives of the "Lost Boys."
Over the past two decades, more than 27,000 boys have escaped villages in southern Sudan during a civil war that has claimed millions of lives. While their parents and sisters were being slaughtered, the young boys banded together for the 1,000-mile walk to refuge.
Though the violence mostly has subsided, the survivors have had little incentive to return to their war-torn villages. But Hoffman and other members of ICC's honor society, Phi Theta Kappa, want to give the Lost Boys a reason to go home.
The fraternity recently partnered with Chicago media company Endless Eye Productions and national bookseller Better World Books to conceive a plan to build and stock a library in Sudan's Punyijiar County. Over the past few months, the effort, called "Walk Sudan," has collected more than 8,000 books, which volunteers loaded onto a truck Thursday to be shipped to Africa.
"We wanted to start with a library because education is a way to empower them," said Hoffman, adding that most of the Lost Boys have seen no more than three books in their lives. "We want to give them something to come back to."
Hoffman, who graduated from ICC in May, sat down with friend Sean Fahey from Endless Eye earlier this year to devise a plan about how to help Fahey's friend, Justin Machien Luoi, a Lost Boy who was educated in the United States as a refugee.
After just an evening of brainstorming, the two set out to raise awareness and money to rebuild part of Luoi's country. Nearly 50 members of Phi Theta Kappa began speaking at area schools and churches during the spring semester, asking for monetary donations as well as books. They also sponsored a 3-mile walk from Bradley University to the Peoria riverfront in May to raise awareness about their campaign and to simulate the trek the Lost Boys made to refuge.
While Hoffman has remained involved in the effort, his graduation from ICC and move to Loyola University in Chicago required him to pass on the reins to new Phi Theta Kappa president Thomas Aguilar, who is just as devoted to the cause.
Aguilar was covered in sweat Thursday, as he and other volunteers loaded the hundreds of boxes of books onto a truck. Better World Books also is donating texts and shipping the first batch to Sudan shortly, as construction of the library is scheduled to begin within the next few months. Endless Eye will follow along to capture the effort in a documentary called "A Library for Panyijiar."
Walk Sudan has promised the library is just the beginning of the effort to rebuild the African community over the next 20 years. A school will follow, Aguilar said, then a water treatment plant. The project has no limit."This is our way of showing that Peoria can make a difference for people on the other side of the world," he said.
Erin Wood can be reached at 686-3194 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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