After 21 years of civil war, elections are set to occur next year in southern Sudan. The problem is, there may be no one there to vote.
"They don't have school, they don't have water, they don't have medicine," says Awer Bul, a 25-year-old VCU student who went back to his homeland to film a documentary. With no alternatives, he notes, "They return to camp in Kenya."
Bul, one of the first "Lost Boys" of Sudan to come to America, has lived in Richmond since the end of 2000. Before coming here, he stayed in a refugee camp in Kenya for seven years as war raged between the northern and southern segments of his country.
In 2006, he visited southern Sudan, which he found largely deserted, and last summer he went to the camp in Kenya,
where many Sudanese refugees have returned.
"They want to come back for the election," he notes, but with present conditions, the country is unlivable. "People are really in a terrible situation."
In Sudan and Kenya, Bul and fellow VCU student Gabriel Williams filmed what will be a 30-minute documentary on the political situation in the region. With power shortages, they often couldn't charge up their cameras, roads were nearly impassable and some Sudanese, Bul adds, were bribed by the government to make the situation there sound better than it is.
But after two years and a $5,000 grant from VCU, the film is in the editing stages, and Bul hopes to finish it by December. Still untitled, it is set to be screened on Feb. 1 at the Virginia Holocaust Museum as part of a free film series focusing on genocide.
Bul, who became an American citizen this year, will graduate in May with a degree in kinetic imaging and painting and printmaking, and he hopes to attend graduate school. But he has his hands full already with the establishment of a new nonprofit organization, United Families for Sudan, which aims to build a school. Information on the film and the nonprofit are available on his Web site, awerbul.net.
Bul says he plans to go back to Sudan when he's able to provide help in the form of vaccines, water and food. "I don't want to go back empty-handed next time."