Manute Bol

Former NBA player Manute Bol spoke on campus last night. Bol, who was born in southern Sudan, is currently working with a group called Sudan Sunrise to promote peace and reconciliation efforts in that country, and specifically to build a school in his home village.

Bol spoke for an hour or so about his experiences trying to draw attention to the situation in his home region, where his people have been being oppressed by the Sudanese government since long before anyone had heard of Darfur. Even when he was playing, Bol sent a good deal of money to Sudan. Since his retirement he has spent pretty much everything he has on trying to help people in his homeland.

Bol is both admirable and kind of sad. He’s given a lot, but in order to keep raising money, he’s resorted to a bunch of public stunts to raise money and awareness through his Ring True Foundation, but the only Google results are mentions of his stints as a boxer, hockey player, and jockey– I can’t find a web page for the foundation itself. And, of course, while the stories all mention that Bol did these things to raise money for the foundation, they don’t provide any contact information. So all he’s really managed is to raise awareness of the fact that he’s trying to raise awareness.

He’s doing whatever he can, but you can’t help wondering if his efforts couldn’t benefit from better management. It seems a shame for him to have to pose for pictures with college students in Schenectady (as he did, remarkably patiently, after the talk. I didn’t go up on the stage, because the freakshow aspect of the whole thing makes me twitch) in an effort to raise awareness of his cause.

(Then again, who am I to talk?)

He took a few questions about the situation in Sudan, and strongly advocated UN peacekeepers for Darfur, comparing it to the situation in Bosnia in the early 90′s. He said that direct aid doesn’t do much good, because it ends up being controlled by the government, and sometimes used as bait to draw rebels out– they come to get food and medicine, and then government forces attack with helicopter gunships. Without protection, he said, aid is useless.

He urged students to write to Congress and the president, and put pressure on the government to get the UN to act. He also expressed some hope that Obama’s election might do some good.

He has a compelling story, and it was very interesting to hear him speak. Sadly, it was largely lost on the students, who didn’t have the patience to put up with his thick accent and halting delivery– I was sitting all the way in the back, and watched a disappointingly large number of students come in, listen for two minutes, take a cell-phone picture, and leave.