Awer Bul is taking 16 credit hours this semester at Virginia Commonwealth University, hoping to graduate in the spring with a degree in kinetic imaging. He'd be the first of his generation to do so. The rest of his peers in Sudan still struggles through the debris of 21 years of civil war — a conflict that has killed two million people.
As a child, Bul escaped to a refugee camp in Kenya and communicated his story through art — he knew no English — to the United Nations workers there. It was his art that brought him to Richmond in 2000, as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. And it is art that has taken Bul back again and again to these refugee camps, home to 70,000 Africans displaced by war. There, he's run workshops so that the people — many of them children who were born in the camps — can find a voice, even without a home.
Bul smuggled this art back to the United States, selling it to fund schooling for these children. Now he's finishing a documentary on the experiences, and thinking about what's next after graduation. He'll go back to those war-ravaged places in southern Sudan as the refugees return to destroyed villages, where he plans to install water pumps for clean water and millstones so that children can go to school rather than grinding grain by hand all day. Bul carries a lot with him from class to class, but recognizes his responsibility.
“If I let things fall apart,” he says, “then there will be no hope for the citizens trying to return back.” He says he'll keep going back, keep opening lines for art and water, so that his generation will know “they have not been left behind.”