For the past four years, Sara Damon, geography teacher at Stillwater Junior High, has used the PBS film Lost Boys of Sudan in her 9th grade Geography and AP Human Geography classes as a bridge between units on Population (specifically migration and refugees) and Cultural Geography (culture traits, cultural diffusion, cultural assimilation). According to Damon, the film has been a student favorite, and has provided them with a memorable and powerful case study in the complexities of civil war, refugee camp life, international migration and refugee resettlement.
In December 2008, she read an article in the St. Croix Valley Press about Benjamin Ajak, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, co-author of They Poured Fire On Us From the Sky, who at that time had visited and spoken at a charter school in Forest Lake and at UW-River Falls. Because the story of the Lost Boys had continually made such an impact on her students, she explored the possibility of having her students read his book and of bringing Benjamin to SJHS to bring his stories to life.
Via the web site for the book, she was able to make a connection and work to arrange the visit through Judy Bernstein, also a co-author and manager for Benjamin, Alepho and Benson. An Innovation Grant from the Partnership Plan allowed her to purchase copies of the book to be read and responded to by AP Human Geography students and to fund Benjamin’s speaking fees. Benjamin’s travel expenses were paid through District #834 Secondary Diversity Funds administrated by Eric Anderson. The partnership with H2O For Life was a product of a random meeting of Patty Hall, retired Mounds View teacher and founder of H2O For Life, and Judy Bernstein, while both were hiking in the San Diego area last summer. Judy noticed Patty’s H2O For Life t-shirt, they struck up a conversation and realized they had common interests in Africa, water issues and human rights. Judy mentioned that Benjamin would be in Minnesota in the fall, suggested that Patty connect with Damon upon her return to Minnesota, she did, they met (along with SJHS Principal Rick Wippler, Bob Manning – SJHS Geography Teacher and Nicole Malone – Student Council Advisor) and agreed to collaborate.
Raising awareness and funds for H2O For Life / Water For Sudan provides students with something positive to focus on. SJHS staff want students to feel that there is hope, that individuals and groups can affect change, and that there is something tangible everyone can do to improve the lives of people in Southern Sudan.”