Bayak is one of the bravest people I know. Bravery, in my mind, is taking something desperate and bleak, and shining your indestructible spirit upon it as a protest--a revolution against oblivion. We know each other only online, Facebook and Skype. However, now that he and his entire family, including his mother, are safe in Canada (and after Covid restrictions on travel are lifted) I plan on bringing him a very special gift, a humble gift to remind him of the home he was forced to leave.
Bayak Choul Puoch is from Sudan. In 1987, after his father was shot and killed in front of his family, he was sent away from his home and country, first to Ethiopia and then to Egypt. In 2008, he started the Naath Community Development Center in Cairo, Egypt. The mission of the center was to care for orphans and other Sudanese refugees. The Nuer language group, a minority group in the Sudan of which Bayak and his family are part of, became targets of violence of the new country founded in 2011. Many found asylum in Cairo and there became a need to create a space that helped refugees for as long as their exile kept them from their homeland. Bayak answered the call bringing free access to childcare and adult education to many. All the while, Bayak never took money for his role as Founder and Executive Director. Instead, he and his wife worked tirelessly to create a sanctuary space and the comfort of true community in this foreign land. I deeply admire him and his wife and the many teachers at the Naath Community Development Center. They give me hope that there are still selfless people that are building community and caring fellowship even in the most dire of circumstances. Even though he is safe in Canada now, he still sends money to the center and supports continued work with these displaced people.
In 2011, while working on the nonprofit ICAN (International Children's Awareness Network), I was told by a mutual friend about the great work Bayak and his organization was doing. The website, www.naathcairo.com states their mission is to "enable orphans, as well as refugee children and adults, to recover from the trauma of war, rebuild their lives, create their talents and fulfill their dreams. We provide children a loving environment, in which to be cared for and promote engaged, age-appropriate learning. To adults, we strive to offer the highest quality instruction by teachers who are invested in the success of each student. We wish to bring opportunities to the entire refugee community and work together in partnership, so that we may benefit all those who suffer and are in need." An important mission that I have tried to help from my PC screen over the last ten years: coordinating with an expatriate society in Cairo to purchase a refrigerator to keep milk and medicines from spoiling, writing for his website blog, and editing existing content on the Naath website, and even writing a letter of recommendation for one of his NCDC teachers to attend graduate school.
In the years following our online meeting, we have stayed in touch and I enjoy keeping up with his story on social media. I was overjoyed when I received news he had been granted asylum in Canada in 2017 and was leaving Cairo. He continues to support the Naath Community Development Center and help refugees in Cairo. His new organization, Nile Care Advocacy for Peace and Development, extends and deepens his mission at the center by returning focus on his homeland. On the website, www.NILECAPD.org, the organization's mission is..."To advocate for and protect the rights of vulnerable people and promote equitable economic growth across the South Sudan Community." Again, this is what bravery looks like. He could, while in the relative safety of his asylum country of Canada, cut ties with Cairo and all the hardship and struggle he endured there. On the same note, he didn't need to organize this South Sudan based organization that focuses on bringing aide and development to six geographic focus areas (see map below). Bayak could have looked out for only himself and his family and forgotten about his center in Cairo and the people still in South Sudan, but instead he continues to strive towards peace making and community unity in South Sudan, Egypt and Canada. Helping the South Sudanese people that have been displaced and those that remain is Bayak's calling and it is without reservation that I ask you to donate to his work in South Sudan. Please go to www.NILECAPD.org and give generously!
Last year was going to be the year I finally met Bayak face to face (not just over Skype or Facebook). But 2020 would not be a good year for travel for obvious reasons, so it didn't pan out. I hope to see him in the near future: whenever this virus let's up, when I can travel to Canada again, and when we can find time to go. But it is my hope that the stars will align and I can visit him with a gift, a jar full of seeds from a South Sudanese sorghum--Coral Sorghum. A crop he can grow in his new home in Canada to remind him of his old home and a piece of the fundamental seed heritage of his people. I hope to expand my Conflict Seed collection with more varieties of fruits and veggies from Sudan/South Sudan and be able to bring my friend more than just the one jar.
Coral Sorghum from South Sudan is an important and personal inclusion in my GOTG Peace and Unity Garden at Reed's Organic Farm and Animal Sanctuary where I will be growing over 100 species of GOTG Conflict Seeds. I bought this seed and other seeds in my collection from the Experimental Farm Network--www.ExperimentalFarmNetwork.org. The EFN "works to facilitate collaborative plant breeding and sustainable agriculture research in order to fight global climate change, preserve the natural environment, and ensure food security for humanity into the distant future. We believe participatory plant breeding on a massive scale can lead to breakthroughs to help us not only adapt to climate change, but one day actually stabilize the climate." The Threatened Communities section of their website carries seeds for sale from areas effected by violent conflict like the Haskorea Pepper from Syria or climate change like the Hithadhoo Maldives Melon from the Maldives.
This is what they say about Coral Sorghum: "Coral' is one amazing plant. From the Shilluk people of the war-torn city of Malakal, South Sudan, this is a beautiful sorghum with many uses. The large purple grains (which fade toward brown with age) can be popped like popcorn, boiled or steamed like rice or barley, ground into flour, brewed into beer, or cracked and cooked like polenta. Harvested when the grains are still green, they can be hand-threshed and cooked almost like a green vegetable (akin to sweet corn), producing a chewy, sweet, savory delight. This preparation is considered a delicacy in South Sudan."
I grew it last year in my garden and they are right to go on to say in the description that this plant is a giant, about 14 ft at the end of the Summer. This year I want to attempt to extract the juice from the tall canes to make a Coral Sorghum syrup and be able to put it on my Japanese Buckwheat pancakes!