Avenues 6th graders had the opportunity to hear from a special speaker earlier this year, Tonderai Chikuhwa, father of 6th grader Thandi Chikuhwa. Mr. Chikuhwa’s presentation concluded a unit in which 6th graders read Linda Sue Park’s powerful novel A Long Walk to Water, which tells the story of Salva Dut, one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, a refugee who covered much of the African continent on foot in an attempt to escape the violence of his country’s civil war and be reunited with his family.
Mr. Chikuhwa, who currently works as a team leader for the United Nations and who has spent significant time in South Sudan negotiating for the release of Lost Boys like Salva Dut who have been forced into becoming child soldiers, spoke passionately about his experiences. He explained the connections between A Long Walk to Water and the work he has done, bringing both the country of South Sudan and the story of the Lost Boys to life through his personal photographs and storytelling. He described what life has been like for many of the Lost Boys, young people who have faced and continue to face enormous challenges, explaining how many of them were separated from their families and communities, recruited into the armed forces and suffered physically and psychologically as a result. He described the work that he has done as part of the United Nations on behalf of these young people, to reintegrate them back into their families and communities. He emphasized that this is not simply a problem specific to South Sudan or even to Africa in general but a global problem.
The students were fascinated by Mr. Chikuhwa’s stories and descriptions, and they asked poignant, thought-provoking questions about the boys’ struggles to survive such hardships and then to return to their families, about the families’ reactions to their return, about dangers that Mr. Chikuhwa has faced, about the successes and failures of his team. With grace, poise and honesty, Mr. Chikuhwa emphasized the need for the 6th graders to bring greater awareness to these problems. In this way, he explained, they will take the first steps toward making real change.