Seventh grade students at Fulton Junior High School have been reading the novel “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park, a book that tells the story in alternating sections of real life experiences of Salva Dut in 1985 and a reality-based fictional character Nya in 2008.
The story is part of the Common Core ELA Curriculum and students learned about a world that is on the continent of Africa during a time when children as young as six fled their villages and left their parents to escape civil war and starvation.
Through the novel and related classroom activities and assignments, the students learned about the country of South Sudan during the Second Sudanese Civil War and how individuals and refugees, including the nearly 10,000 ‘Lost Boys of Sudan,’ survived challenging environments.
Among those refugees was Chol Majok who visited FJHS to speak to the students and share his own personal experiences.
Majok’s story parallels the book’s main character’s life, and for a time Majok and Salva Dut were refugees in the same camp, but did not meet until after coming to America.
Majok talked about the ‘Lost Boys’’ struggles to find food and water and growing up with no parents.
“All we had was one another,” he said.
He talked about the importance of having a strong heart and strength, and shared messages about the values of hard work, dedication and perseverance to achieve goals.
Majok was 16 when he came to the United States. He attended Fowler High School and went on to obtain a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.
Today, Majok works for Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and shares his story to help others and encourages others to do the same. He also talked about the importance of acceptance for those who look and act different, because you may not know their whole story.
Students at the school took Majok’s and Salva Dut’s story to heart and used the lessons learned to institute real change, not only in their own lives, but in the lives of others.
Said one student following the visit by Majok, “We read this book, but it was hard to wrap your head around it.” Adding, “We have everything and this is all we know.”
But for many students, the book and visit provided an opportunity to change their impulse to judge people by their outward appearance before getting to know them.
Said one seventh grade girl, “You can’t judge people by how they look because you don’t know their story.”
The students were eager to not only change their attitude, they wanted to do more.
Another project undertaken by the seventh grade students was a visit by and community service project to benefit Catholic Charities, an organization that works with refugees transitioning to life in Central New York. Kate Holmes, a representative from the group visited the school to share information regarding refugees from various countries entering the United States.
Many left their homeland with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Holmes shared with the students the needs that these refugees had for even the most basic of life’s necessities and her presentation sparked a good conversation on what the students could do to help.
They decided to organize a donation drive to collect some of the items needed by the refugees and their families.
The students collected clothes, shoes, food, dishes and other household items to be distributed to those in need. In all, the seventh grades students collected enough items to fill an entire van.