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St. Lawrence student makes most of volunteer trip to Sudan

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CANTON — When St. Lawrence University sophomore Nathan K. Rotich of Kenya took his grass-roots project to a village in the Republic of South Sudan this summer, he never suspected he also would be traveling to Kenya and Dartmouth University.

Mr. Rotich embarked upon his trip to South Sudan with a $10,000 grant from the Davis Projects for Peace, a program that has seen at least one recipient from St. Lawrence every year.

With the grant, Mr. Rotich arrived in what was then still the Republic of the Sudan to implement a seven-week program that would help former rebel fighters become political and economic leaders.

“It was really cool. I really liked the experience,” he said, explaining that he was in the country during its political separation from northern Sudan. “It was something that I don’t think I’ll ever forget, to see all the cultures come together to celebrate. It’s a very, very vast country, and everyone was like, ‘This is what we’ve been waiting for decades for.’”

Once in Sudan, Mr. Rotich worked for three weeks with a nongovernmental organization to help a village build a fishing economy around the Nile River, emphasizing skills such as job sharing and bookkeeping and providing the villagers with new fishing nets and repairs to fishing boats. However, he encountered an unexpected roadblock in July when government officials detained him for a visa problem during the South Sudanese independence celebrations.

After being held for 11 days in the capital city of Juba, Mr. Rotich was issued an apology and freed through the interventions of SLU and the Kenyan Consulate.

Despite the frightening experience, Mr. Rotich said, he found a silver lining when he was introduced to a high-ranking African government official and was given permission from St. Lawrence to spend the rest of the trip in Kenya with his family.

“When I got out of the cell, it happened that I met a top-ranking official with the United Nations,” he said. “I believe that greatness comes through pain; I don’t think everything comes straight for you. I took it as a test and as a teaching experience.”

Since his return to campus this fall, Mr. Rotich has been hoping to find an organization that will sponsor further work in South Sudan.

He said although the nation is still very volatile, he hopes to undertake more projects in the country to help it recover from its legacy of violence.

In the meantime, Mr. Rotich has been receiving updates from the Sudanese fishermen, who have started selling their fish to three hotels in a Sudanese chain. He also has been invited as a guest speaker to the “Mbele Africa — The Youth’s Role in Taking Africa Forward” collegiate convention at Dartmouth, Hanover, N.H., in November.

“I’m very happy that we have started this thing,” he said. “I want to go back to continue the project. Some people are surprised, but I want to go back.”

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