A City man with a heart for South Sudan will be the feature of a powerful new documentary to be screened Feb. 2 at CrossRoads Church.
The Ladder of My Life tells the unbelievable true story of Monybany Minyang Dau, who is also the founder of ‘Water for Atar’ – a project aiming to provide potable water for his home village in South Sudan.
Although he and his family, which includes his wife Susan and their two young sons, have called Red Deer home for several years now, he is burdened about the severe struggles facing his homeland.
At the Feb. 2 event, which starts at 7 p.m., Dau will be showing The Ladder of My Life and launching the Atar Water Project, which includes the goal of digging 10 water wells for 10 communities that will ultimately benefit 90,000 people. The project is in partnership with the Lacombe-based humanitarian organization A Better World.
South Sudan, which had been through years of unimaginable conflict with its northern counterpart, declared its independence in July of 2011 – but the obstacles have hardly diminished. “There were high expectations when the flag was raised and people thought if they had independence, everything would change,” he explains.
But that hasn’t happened, and Dau, 38, wants people to know that the hardships continue. Poverty is rampant, there is little work, chances for education are extremely limited and there is the staggering rate of illiteracy, which stands at more than 90% of the population.
“I want people to be aware of the situation in South Sudan,” he said. “I want them to be touched and stand by the people and assist them in their struggle.”
Making things worse, he said, is that northern Sudan is still trying to wield its power and influence over land, resources and people of the newly-formed South Sudan.
But by building awareness, Dau is confident that things can improve. People here at home can also support non-governmental organizations that are already working there including A Better World. Helping to provide clean water for villages like Atar is also a literally life-changing step via Dau’s project. Deaths from contaminated water are constant.
“This is the first step,” he said of spreading the word about South Sudan’s needs. “There has been silent genocide going on in South Sudan without the world knowing about it.”
Along side his desire to work for change in South Sudan, Dau’s personal story itself is amazing. When he was about nine years old he enlisted as a child soldier to fight for the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
“The main objective of the SPLA was to achieve social justice, fairness, education, social welfare and all the other basic civil rights,” he explains in the documentary.
A civil war had erupted in the early 1980s and was to last about 20 years with millions of people killed or displaced. Dau’s own village had been burned to the ground by government troops. “The jungle became our new home. Running became normal for us, as the systematic crackdown by the government intensified.”
So Dau joined thousands as they journeyed for six weeks on foot to reach their ‘safe haven’ – a refugee camp in Ethiopia. The journey confirmed his mother’s concerns.
Water and food were hard to find. Government troops zeroed in on the travelers. This was also during the severe famine of the mid-1980s across Ethiopia. So the ‘safe haven’ turned out to be anything but.
But Dau stayed put and underwent training to become a SPLMA soldier. The goal? To be equipped to fight for freedom for his people.
Stints of such fighting came and went with many injured, many disappearing and others killed.
Then the leadership decided that education was critical. Schools were opened in various refugee camps and elsewhere in the ‘SPLA Liberated Areas’.
The leader of the SPLA also eventually decided to send many of the young soldiers to an expanded educational opportunity in Cuba, with the goal that one day they would return to their homeland and work for a more promising future.
Eventually, Dau found his way to Canada in 1998 as a refugee. He is clearly resolute on reaching out to his homeland.
Starting with his home village of Atar, he plans to build wells and start the long overdue human effort to help restore the dignity, and the life of his people.
“I would like to build a world with no child soldiers,” he explains in The Ladder of My Life. “A world with no wars or civil wars. A world where human rights are respected and where there would be no discrimination, and where regardless of your age, religion, or political affiliation, you are just a human being. And this is the kind of world I want to see in Sudan.”
Meanwhile, the documentary was produced by the locally-based Unveil Studios which is owned and operated by Daniel, Andrew and Matthew Kooman.
Matthew, who also edited the project, said it was a complex documentary to put together because he was dealing with film from about five different sources.
“A lot of it is Monybany’s video which is amazing. He really wants to tell the story, and is very passionate about his village.
“We really wanted to help him tell his story, and help with his cause.”
It’s a compelling project that touches on several areas, from Sudan’s violent and troubled past to the present often desperate situation, plus Dau’s incredible personal experiences. It leaves the viewer moved and sincerely challenged to consider practical ways of lending a helping hand.
As for Dau, he’s hopeful. He points out how far things have come – even a decade or so ago there wasn’t much thought that South Sudan would actually one day be an independent nation. “I can also envision South Sudan in prosperity, because they are such a resilient people.”
Visit www.ladderofmylife.com or facebook.com/atarwaterproject.