It Started with an Idea — and 200 T-shirts!
In 2007 Gabriel Bol Deng walked into Dr. J. Barron Boyd’s office of the Center for Peace and Global Studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, while pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in mathematics education. Gabriel had come to the United States as a part of the Refugee Resettlement Program in 2001. Since entering the United States, he had nurtured a dream to return to his home country of Sudan in search of his family and also find a way to provide other young people there with the opportunity for a quality education. Gabriel’s first plan of action was to obtain a college education, which would equip him with knowledge and necessary skills to make his dream a reality. His next step was to start the dream by selling t-shirts to support the building and operation of a school in his native village of Ariang in South Sudan.
When first presented with this idea, professor Boyd looked at Gabriel and asked him how he planned to do this. “I’m going to sell t-shirts,” Gabriel told Boyd, and then asked him to help fund the first purchase of 200 t-shirts to get his dream off the ground. Boyd agreed but when Gabriel left his office, the professor turned to his assistant and said, “We’re going to have to figure out something to do with 190 t-shirts because there are going to be a lot of extras!”
Thousands of t-shirts, hundreds of speaking engagements, and one powerful award-winning documentary film later, Boyd’s initial skepticism has been totally erased. From that modest start Gabriel went on to create HOPE for Ariang Foundation, a non-profit organization that has completed the construction of Ariang School in May 2011. The school is now educating 500 children, including 130 girls, under its roof.
“Throughout the process, I’ve been amazed with Gabriel and everything he’s done,” said Professor Boyd. “I should have never doubted that he would make this happen.”
The foundations continues to receive a tremendous outpouring of grassroots support from students, educators, and citizens throughout many parts of the United States as well as Europe.
“I was so struck by the state of suffering I saw in my native village of Ariang and throughout South Sudan. Now that I’m a witness to that state of suffering: what should I do? Should I keep silent and go on doing my personal business by focusing on my own life? Or do I have human obligations to take a concrete action to help mitigate the suffering? I decided I want to be a part of the solution, which led me to establish HOPE for Ariang Foundation.”
~ Gabriel Bol Deng