Mr. Jongkuch was also presented with a $1,179 donation from the school’s Cents for Sudan fund-raiser organized by teachers Jennifer Perri and Patricia Luders. The donation will go toward Impact A Village, a non-profit organization that helps to improve education and healthcare worldwide. Students from the top fundraising ELA classes of Michelle Kujawa and Tressa Bogner presented the check.
Fleeing his Bor village in 1988 during the Sudanese civil war, Mr. Jongkuch told how he walked four to five weeks to find safety in a refugee camp, which became his home for four years. Since there was no school building or books, classes were held under a tree and children wrote in the sand. Food was in short supply, so there was usually just one meal a day. He later located to a Kenyan refugee camp for nine years, before being chosen as one of 3,800 Lost Boys brought to the U.S. to begin a new life. Here he began discovering what he called the “American mysteries”: water plentifully available through a faucet, cooking by stove instead of firewood, light with the flick of a switch, a vacuum cleaner versus cleaning with tree branches.
Not knowing the culture and with limited English language abilities, he struggled in his first job at a retail store. Instead of quitting, he took the store catalog home and memorized the products. After two years, he became so proficient, he was able to train others. Later, he worked an overnight security job and attended college during the day, eventually earning degrees in health sciences and public health.
“So you guys here have no reason you cannot go to college,” he said, in speaking of overcoming adversity.
He said that through all the difficult times, he was amazed at the human spirit.
“As human beings, we adapted to the situation,” he said.
He also told students that their best asset for learning isn’t a high-tech gadget.
“You have wonderful teachers and resources.”