An educational leg up: Amherst resident raising funds for school he founded in South Sudan, close to where he grew up in Ethiopia

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-28-2023 8:58 PM

AMHERST — Schoolchildren in South Sudan risking their lives to further their education is a significant problem an Amherst resident is hoping to address through advocacy and fundraising, using his own experience in lifelong learning that has continued since he arrived in the United States in 2016.

“I know how important school is in my mind,” says Kwot Jay, a native of Ethiopia who left his home in Kenya for Winston-Salem, North Carolina seven years ago. “If you don’t offer a good education, you don’t have a good life.”

Jay, 36, a scholar in The Literacy Project’s intermediate classes in Amherst, recently launched a fundraising website to benefit the Pochalla Secondary School in Pochalla, South Sudan — close to where he grew up in Ethopia — and where students are getting expanded opportunities to learn through the high school grade levels.

“I know the conditions for people in South Sudan,” Jay said. “Many children don’t have schools, they don’t have hospitals, they don’t have clean water.”

And not only has their education typically ended in eighth grade, limiting opportunities for their future to do farm work and other similar tasks, but those families who want their children to have more advanced skills are forced to take risks of travel to and from Pochalla on poor roads and through political unrest.

“If you want to go, you will go somewhere far,” Jay said. “There are many children who have lost their lives, they get attacked on the way.”

“Many children drop out from school because they don’t know what to do.”

The main site Jay has put together is at: https://sites.google.com/view/pochallasecondaryschool/home?authuser=1 and includes a link to a Fundly site that is collecting donations, supplementing money he sends each month to pay salaries of those teaching at the school.

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Jay’s enrollment in The Literacy Project means he is continuing a life of education, preparing for his high school equivalency exam and eventual diploma.

“If you want to go to college, they will prepare you for college,” Jay said. “I want to prepare myself for college and get what I need.”

Born in Ethiopia, Jay left in 2003 during genocide and period of civil wars and strife, went to South Sudan for two years and then spent more than 10 years in Kenya. He arrived in the United States in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 2016, getting a job at a college there. Two years later, a friend who grew up in Massachusetts suggested he head north.

“I said, ‘yes, I can go see it,’” Jay said adding that, “it’s better, it’s like home.” Initially, he spent several months on Martha’s Vineyard.

Eileen Barry, who teaches at The Literacy Project, said Jay’s dedication to learning is evident in his commitment to the students at the Pochalla school and in his participation in classes that will culminate in the HiSET exam.

Barry said Jay is looking for some guidance concerning the best way to obtain nonprofit status or to learn what fundraising option is best suited for his project.

“Kwot’s goal, in addition to strengthening his academic skills, is to pursue higher education so that he can continue to make a difference in the lives of others,” Barry said.

At his current job as a food services employee at the University of Massachusetts, he interacts with students who tell him that when he completes The Literacy Project and gets his diploma, he should enroll.

“One day I hope to be like them,” Jay said, adding that his aspirations, following college, would be to get into politics and community development.

At Pochalla Secondary School, Jay said having the resources is critical.

“For a school to be a school we need a lot of things, books, pencils, chalk, exercises,” he said.

When he reflects on his own life, Jay said he had a family that cherished education and gave him the foundation he now has, though when his mother died 18 years ago, that curtailed.

“They took me to school when I was young,” he said.

He will keep sharing the website and other information with people to broaden the reach and bring in more than the $450 so far.

While Jay has not returned to Ethiopia, where two brothers live, or South Sudan, where another brother lives, he hopes to go back there

He also pledges that at some point he would like to visit the school his fundraiser is supporting when he has the time and ability.

“I will,” he said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.]]>