Joseph Akol Makeer, the Fargo Lost Boy whose dream of helping orphans in his home village of Duk Payuel, inspired the ASAH School for Orphaned Girls, paid for a bull for a feast during this day of memorial services for Jef Foss, beloved husband, father, ASAH Board Member and the architect who designed the ASAH school site plan and buildings. Jef was to make his fourth visit to Duk this May to oversee the building of our kitchen and dining complex and our new dormitory. He passed away unexpectedly on April 10 at age 61.
ASAH, however, is fortunate that his son Rygo, an attorney with Skyline Restoration in NYC, decided to accompany his mother and travel in his father’s place to ensure his legacy is carried out.
The morning after our arrival began with the respectful slaughtering of the bull and the preparation of the meat for meals to feed our guests, students, staff, and community members who would be coming for our services during the day.
About 30 people came for morning prayers. The head Pastor of the church led the prayer service which was attended by the men and women of the church council, Executive Village Chief Mathieu, and other leaders.
When they left we walked to the JDF Lost Boys Clinic to use the Internet – our first opportunity for communication with the world outside Duk Payuel. A frustrating experience. More than thirty minutes to download the first email. Sometimes the net operates so slowly it is better to walk away and come back later. But it’s a twenty-minute walk in the hot sun from our place to theirs, so we “hope” the speed will improve. The max speed on the Internet here is 256 kb per second, so if we receive emails with attachments or pictures or even signatures, it really slows it down. A video is impossible. Sometimes the Internet is 0 kb/second or 5 or 10. Very frustrating for those of us used to immediate and reliable response.
After wrestling with the net and managing minimal communications to family and others that we arrived safely, we walked back to ASAH in the brutal noon sun where we were treated with the “best” of the bull – the liver and fried bread.
Around 3:30 community members began arriving for our memorial service. About 50 people – the pastor and council, several chiefs, clinic staff, community leaders and others who had known Jef attended along with our staff and students. The pastor led an opening prayer and our ASAH girls sung the African Soul, American Heart Song lyrics composed by Christ the King Lutheran Church in Moorhead. And they sang it a second time – louder! followed by some traditional songs. Jef’s wife, Keiko, said a few words about what it meant to her husband to work on this project, and his son, Rygo spoke about the impact on him of seeing the work his father had accomplished and his desire to see that it continues and that ASAH succeeds. The Executive Chief spoke about the importance of educating women. People often ask me if the community resists educating the girls. They don’t, but there are many obstacles to education – poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy of the parents, and so on. In this area, the ASAH students stand out as role models for other girls, and enrollment of girls in the local school has increased. I closed by thanking the community for their support and reinforcing the Chief’s message about the impact that educated women will have on their families and their communities and the peace of a nation, a message welcomed by all.