“Save Darfur.” It’s likely you’ve seen it on someone’s shirt while sitting in class. Much less likely seeing someone from Darfur in class. The William and Mary Banaa Project is trying to turn that unlikelihood into a reality. Four undergraduates and three law students have been working since last fall to create an endowment for a Sudanese student to attend the College. The initiative began with Ariel Shah ’10 who discovered Banaa, the Sudan Educational Empowerment Network, in The Washington Post.
Banaa is a non profit organization that works to bring Sudanese students to the United States with academic scholarships.
“[Banaa believes] that those scholars will return to Sudan and build stability and peace,” Matthew Berger J.D ’11. said.
According to banaa.org, Sudan has been at war for 40 of its 52 years as an independent state. Emily Sumner ’11 said the result of that war is an extremely devastated infrastructure, which has affected education at even the elementary level.
“[The Sudanese] are in dire need of assistance, and education is a way to help,” she said.
Banaa was started by an undergraduate at George Washington University, and its first scholarship recipient, Makwei Mabior, is in his second year at GWU. Mabior recently came to the College as an ambassador for the program and is expected to return to speak again this fall.
“He wanted to inform William and Mary and say the impact [Banaa] can make, not only in bringing peace to Sudan, but also to the individual,” Berger said.
To bring in more students, other higher education institutions, including Tufts University and the University of Florida, have also signed up for the program. Whereas some Banaa scholars will be funded completely by the institutions they attend, William and Mary’s Banaa Project will require multiple financial sources.
“[Banaa] will have its own distinctive William and Mary feel,” Sumner said. “George Washington is a private institution and has a different funding avenue.”
While GWU provides funding for the scholar’s transportation and summer internships, the bulk of the scholarship must be provided for by the specific school the student attends.
“State schools realize it’s going to be creative planning for fundraising,” Sumner said.
The William and Mary Banaa Project aims to establish an endowment of $250,000, accounting for inflation and tuition increases. The funds would cover the expenses of tuition, food, laptops and cell phones for each Sudanese student.
“It’s a sustainable endowment, a long time goal,” Berger said. “But by establishing that, then if you have a year when the fundraising isn’t as good, then the endowment is still there.”
Planning is still in an early stage, but members of Banaa have already begun working setting up meetings with faculty from different departments, the Reves Center for International Studies and President Taylor Reveley. Reactions have been positive but honest.
“The general reaction from people is, ‘It sounds really interesting, and we’d like to see it happen; but fundraising is hard,’” Shah said.
Although the group has received mixed feedback, the team is serious and professional about its goal.
“We’re building a business plan to solicit funds from interested parties to show it’s a well thought-out project,” Berger said.
The plan will be completed over the summer so that fundraising can begin in the fall. The club, which hopes to utilize a wide variety of sources for funds, the club is open to students of all disciplines and levels.
“[The William and Mary Banaa Project] is unique because it brings together undergraduate, law and business students,” Shah said. “It will bring a unique perspective on campus, for round tables or in class … it goes with the objective of the school — increasing diversity.”
Despite an ambitious goal o$250,000 and the challenges of fundraising at a public university, members of the William and Mary Banaa Project remain optimistic. Berger emphasized the need to educate Sudanese citizens rather than providing foreign aid.
“This approach allows people from Sudan to have the tools,” he said.
Scholars are required to work as public servants in Sudan upon graduating, but can work in fields ranging from government to water distribution. The Clinton Global Initiative has committed to Banaa’s national goal of bringing at least 20 Sudanese students to the United States next year. Berger said growing partnerships reflect that the Banna project is more than just a pipe dream.
William and Mary Banaa is accepting applications until April 29 for next year’s committee. Applications can be requested at [email protected]