Sudanese artist/activist works to build well back home

Awer Bul spent his childhood in a nation plagued by killing and corruption. At seven he left his family and fled to Uganda, then to Kenya. Now in Richmond, he’s using his art to tell his story and raise funds to build a well for the Dinka people in his native Sudan.

Caught in war, he spent his childhood in a nation uprooted by killing, prejudice, and corruption.

As a boy, his father told him stories of Sudan’s civil war, which took two million lives, displaced more than four million people from Sudan, and forced many families to move to refugee camps in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Chad, and Egypt, according to The United Families for Sudan.

Awer Bul, now 27, left his father’s stories behind at the age of seven when he fled his home and family, traveling to Uganda and then to Kenya.

“I would talk of war as something general, you know. This war was not a war where civilian(s) were respected,” Bul said.

Three years later, his intent to escape from Sudan’s civil unrest only brought Bul to the Kakuma Refugee Camp where he spent six years of his life.

“Food was very limited, there were no medicines,” Bul said. “You go to (a) clinic; you would stay in the clinic for like, eight hours and just get medicine for Malaria.”

During his time in the camp, a visiting aid worker asked Bul to tell his story. However, because Bul could not speak English, he used art as a means of communication.

He had been painting long before his time in the camp, and his work allowed him to stand out… and to be chosen to be transferred to the United States.

Soon after, Bul traveled to the United States at the age of 17. He originally resided with the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls. He then began to pursue his high school diploma, which he received in 2004.

Eventually, Bul enrolled at VCU. He graduated in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts after majoring in kinetic imaging and minoring in painting and printmaking in the VCU School of the Arts.

Bul now works with two nonprofit organizations — The Awer Art Project and United Families for Sudan — providing supplies and aid to communities of the war-affected Dinka people in the Twic East District of Southern Sudan.

Bul started the non-profit organizations to help fund these projects, which also include plans to:

  • Facilitate health care and provide clean water.
  • Provide for the training of teachers.
  • Build an adequate school building to facilitate concentration and learning.
  • Provide adequate school supplies.
  • Use this infrastructure to promote economic development and empowerment.

According to the United Families for Sudan website, Bul began re-building his small village in Sudan about two years ago. Bul intends to build a well, a grinding stone, and a school in Wangalei.

According to Micheal Lucero, an undergraduate at VCU student who helps Bul run the United Families for Sudan, they are now working to host Band Together for The Well, a benefit event on August 22 that will include appearances by bands, speakers, and artists, all to raise funds for the well.

Lucero said the well will cost about $12,000 to build. They will also need at least three people to fly over to Sudan to lead the construction efforts, costing about $5,000 per person. This puts the total cost of the project at $27,000 to $30,000.

In addition to plans to build the well, Bul said he is concerned with Southern Sudan’s upcoming independence referendum in which the country will decide whether or not it should remain as a part of Sudan in January 2011. He plans to document the Southern Sudan people’s sentiments over the referendum when he has raised enough money to travel back to his country.

“How will Southern Sudan support itself? These people have no infrastructure and no foundation — the only foundation they have is from people who are trying to give aid,” Bul said.

The government of Southern Sudan, according to Bul, does not have enough resources to support its people.

“I’m concerned about that,” Bul said. “My main focus now is to be able to build the well so we can move onto other things. We want to be able to go before the referendum takes place to be able to document how the referendum will impact their lives.”

Currently, Bul said the government focuses on Northern Sudan, while the South remains neglected.

“That’s where the hospitals are, that’s where the clinics are, that’s where the clean water is,” Bul said. “For me, I want to see how much of a difference it will make. I think it will be a good thing for me to go to see how my country will change because we have been known for war but if the referendum comes, I want to be a part of that with my people.

Bul said he will continue to work with the Awer Bul Art Project and The United Families of Sudan to raise funds for the well and to document the upcoming referendum.

“We need more people to stand up for this,” Bul said. “Because these things may come to your door one day, you never know because this world is going crazy. People are growing wild — people are not people anymore.”

Band Together for the Well will be held on August 22 at the Capital Ale House, located at 623 E. Main Street. The benefit event will take place from 3pm to 9pm.

For more information about Band Together for the Well, visit the event’s Facebook page. To learn more about the United Families of Sudan, visit the website. For more about Awer Bul, visit his website.

(Photo courtesy of Michael Lucero)

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Erica Terrini

Erica Terrini is a contributing writer for RVANews and currently attends Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is also the executive editor for The Commonwealth Times. During her time in Richmond, she has gotten used to running around like a crazy person with a never-ending checklist in her pursuit to report the local news of a thriving, raw, and pretty fly city.

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