My name is Christopher O’Keefe, and I am a 23-year-old Ohio native who has spent the last two years working in various capacities for the Catholic Church in Sudan. Prior to leaving for Sudan, I completed two years as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, and will rejoin the Brigade of Midshipmen in the fall of 2010 as a junior. I separated from the Naval Academy to go to Sudan because I realized that I was living my life only for myself, never doing anything for others, and I wanted to change that. So, I went to work for two years as a volunteer in one of the poorest, most violent countries on Earth.
Now that I am back, I want to share my story and experiences so that others can gain a greater appreciation for the situation in south Sudan, and hopefully support some of the institutions that are doing good work there. While in Africa, I worked in many different roles, starting as an English teacher, then working as a school supervisor, and eventually doing development and communications work for an entire diocese.
I originally began working in Sudan under the auspices of the order of the Salesians of Don Bosco, in the city of Wau, which is in the southwest region of the country. In Wau, I worked as a teacher, teaching English at a nursing school, computer skills at a local technical school and physical education at an elementary school. I also helped to remodel a local medical clinic run by the order, and helped to run a local youth center at nights. Later, in Tonj, I worked as the village school supervisor for five months, coordinating education and development activities for several thousand children over a 200 kilometer area. It was my job to work with the World Food Programme to manage the delivery of aid to the schools, and to oversee projects to improve or create educational facilities. For those months, I spent most of my days coordinating and visiting the schools and education centers to make sure that they were running properly.
I spent the last ten months working for the Diocese of Rumbek as a development coordinator, doing infrastructure development, communications, and capacity-building work. In this role, I assessed each of the missions in the diocese’s communication systems, and helped to improve and develop the communication capacity of the diocese. I also worked closely with the Sudan Council of Catholic Bishops in their Save the Schools initiative together with the Italian Bishops Conference. In the course of this work, I traveled all over Sudan several times, and gained a thorough understanding of the true plight of the country, and the underlying causes of the current state of affairs.
Now that I am back in the United States, I hope to be able to apply all of the lessons that I have learned, not just in terms of skills, but also my deeper understanding of the situation in Sudan, to raise awareness about the situation. I intend to continue my support for the Diocese of Rumbek through my partnership with the Italian non-government organization CESAR, and will continue to raise awareness here in the U.S. for this most worthwhile cause. See you somewhere on the Trail!