I have just made my way safely home from Sudan and South Sudan, broken collar bone in tow! I’m so thankful to Greg Garrison of the Birmingham News/AL.com for his 13 years of consistent reporting on the effective efforts of Make Way Partners in the most war-torn corners of our planet. Below is Greg’s newest article, please share with all your social media outlets to be the voice for these precious orphans!
An Alabama ministry that has operated orphanages in Sudan for 12 years just graduated its first high school class including children who started in first grade.
Kimberly Smith Highland, executive director of Birmingham-based Make Way Partners, attended the Dec. 9 graduation ceremony.
“We bought them black robes in Kenya,” said Highland, who returned to Alabama on Feb. 2 from her latest trip to Sudan and South Sudan. “They didn’t know what a graduation looks like.”
High school graduates
Most of the 16 high school graduates, orphans of war, want to go into medicine. “Most of them want to be doctors,” Highland said. “They’ve watched their families die.”
“They can actually dream now,” Highland said. “Thirteen years ago if you asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, their faces were blank. Nobody grows up here. There was no such thing.”
Make Way Partners, founded in 2002, began working in Sudan in 2004 and started the first orphanage and school there in 2005 in the midst of civil war.
Highland said they haven’t had any trouble specifically with Trump’s travel ban, since she travels to Uganda and has to sneak into Sudan. She is routinely questioned at airports for traveling to the region, however. She avoids open travel in Sudan, believing she could be arrested there by the Sudanese government, which recently gave a life sentence to one of her friends and associates. Petr Jacek, a Czech Christian aid worker and journalist, was recently arrested and sentenced by Khartoum North Criminal Court on charges of espionage, illegally entering Sudan, and spreading false news about the country for his reporting on the conflict in the Nuba Mountains.
Highland has at times brought indigenous leaders of her ministry from Sudan to the United States for meetings and fundraising efforts; their future travel could be affected by bans on travel from Sudan to the United States.
Make Way Partners runs three major orphanages, one in Sudan and two in South Sudan.
The high school graduation was at the high school at its orphanage in South Sudan near the border of Darfur, where it cares for and educates about 750 children. The other orphanages are about 1,000 miles apart and each has an elementary school and clinic. An orphanage in the Nuba mountains in Sudan has about 500 children. One in South Sudan near the border of Uganda cares for about 300. That facility includes a 2,000-acre farm to grow food. Otherwise, food has to be trucked in from neighboring countries.
South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011, but a new civil war broke out by 2013 as President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe, fired Vice President Riek Machar, of the Nuer tribe, after accusing him of trying to overthrow him.
That latest civil war has come up to one of the Make Way Partners compounds in South Sudan. Though they are fenced and have security, Highland had to meet with a general for the South Sudan government to ask for protection from rebel attacks. “We took some mortar shells,” Highland said.
“It’s been a bloodbath because of civil war. The fighting was intense. There was just this random slaughter.”
The United States sent billions of dollars in foreign aid to help establish South Sudan, but “It’s not trickling down to the people,” she said. “South Sudan’s worse than it’s ever been.”
In the north, the Muslim-run government of Sudan based in Khartoum has launched chemical weapons and bombing attacks on the people of the Nuba Mountains, where it wants to control the oil.
“This is just a radical, power hungry, greedy group that wants power and control,” Highland said.
“Our Muslim neighbors should not be identified with these radicals. Anytime you get radical extremists, you have this fighting. This is not about Islam, it’s about power, greed.”
About 90 percent of the patients treated at the Make Way Partners clinic in the Nuba Mountains are victims of chemical warfare, Highland said.
The Khartoum regime is run by outsiders who look down on African Muslims, so the African Christians and Muslims in the Nuba Mountains are united in their resistance. “In the Nuba mountains, Muslims and Christians walk hand in hand,” Highland said.
About 20 percent of the children at Make Way Partners orphanages are Muslims, she said. “My motivation for going is the love of Christ, but I feel no need to convert Muslims,” Highland said. “All I can do is share the love that God has given to me. That can work miracles. It has worked miracles.”
In the South, the war has between between warring tribes of people who identify as Christians. “Christians incited genocide against their own people,” Highland said.
“The U.S. made a mistake supporting those guys. It’s not our fault they were evil and corrupt.”
Raising kids in ‘love of Christ’
In the midst of war and famine, Make Way Partners continues, steadfast in its mission.
“We’re raising up thousands of children, regardless of their color of skin, or their faith; we’re raising them in the love of Christ,” Highland said. “We are feeding them, clothing them. All they know is violence. Violence begets violence. We try to teach them the peaceful ways of Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa.”