Penn players begin their journey to Africa

Editor's Note: In this space, Penn teammates Dau Jok and Zack Rosen will provide a series of blog updates on their trip to Africa and Dau's work to start up the Dut Jok Youth Foundation. For more on the tragic yet inspiring reasons behind Dau's mission, read Dana O'Neil's story here.

RUBONA, Rwanda -- Hey everybody! This is Dau Jok, men's basketball player at the University of Pennsylvania, giving it to you exactly as I see it from Africa. Along with my role model and teammate Zack Rosen (he will chirp in and share with ya'll also) and 12 other Penn students, we are here in Rwanda to provide our help and resources to people in need. After our service is done in Rwanda, most of the group will return to the United States while I will continue my journey back to my old stomping grounds of South Sudan, where I will blog further.

The goal of the trip is to create a forum for interfaith and inter-ethnic service learning that will bring together Penn students to explore the dynamics of cultural and ethnic violence and strategies for their elimination. The mission of this program is to create a greater sense of community and understanding between students from different religious and ethnic groups in order to foster future leaders who will help build a more just, tolerant and peaceful society. We will spend most our time here at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village and the surrounding community of Rubona. It is our duty to connect, teach and learn from the people here.

This trip was made possible by Penn Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania under the direction of Rabbi Michael Uram. He, along with Rachel Kaplan, have been great in preparing us and taking care of the logistics of the trip. The gentlemen (at least I think we are) are clearly outnumbered on this trip. The young women are Humna Bhoiani, Lisa Doi, Elisheva Goldberg, Kayla Kapito, Sindhuri (Sindhu) Nandhakumar, Erica Sachse, Claire Shimberg, and Guminrat (Nimu) Sindhu. The young men are Max Cohen, Benjamin Notkin, John Plaisted, Brian Powers, Zack Rosen, and me, Dau Jok.

The members of the group were picked after a round of interviews with Rabbi Mike. We are pretty diverse in terms of race and religion and are officially known as Facing Change Fellows.

On May 29, I will depart from the group before their safari. The destination of my trip is Southern Sudan, where I hope to meet a lot of people in the NGO sector, as well as high power individuals. I will also assess the state of things because I would like to implement the Dut Jok Youth Foundation. The goal of the foundation is to harness the potential of Southern Sudanese youth by funneling resources and providing opportunities through education and sports to offset the post-war disenfranchisement of the current generation. After months and months of meetings, heartaches, headaches, phone calls, emails, excitement, frustrations and encouragement, we are finally going to see the plan in action. We managed to ship soccer balls, basketballs, some basketball nets and pumps over to the region before our arrival.

I would like to thank Dr. Hariet with Upenn CURF, Cheryl Shipman with CURF, Daina and Dr Karlene at Makuu, Rev. Howard, Coach Allen, Kathryn Davis Foundation, fellow students, Bruce Koeppl, Longar, Dau, Upenn Team, and everyone who has helped progress the idea into what it is today. We have a lot of work ahead but I believe we are on the right path. I would also like to thank Mark Crandle of Hoops4Hope, Steve Bauman of Starfinder, SudanSunrise, Greg Larson of Valentino Deng Achak Foundation, and ABO. These individuals/organization were very helpful in my adventure of research and learning about non-profits. They were great resources and most gave me a ton of confidence to pursue the mission.

Finally, a special thank you to coach Dan Leibovitz, Dana O'Neil and Brett Edgerton for making this blog possible. The goal is to give everyone an inside look at a pair of college basketball players and students who are trying to make a lasting difference in the lives of others.

Thank you all!

Peace and Love from Africa,

Dau and Zack