UNH was one of the region’s first schools to embrace ‘Lost Boys’

DURHAM – If it weren’t for the cows in the dairy program at the University of New Hampshire, the Lost Boys of Sudan may have never come.

Three years ago, advocates for the Sudanese refugees living in Massachusetts asked every college in New England with a dairy program to allow the Sudanese to see their cows.

In Sudan, the boys were farmers. Cattle were an integral part of their culture, according to David Chanoff, a member of the board of directors for the Sudanese Education Fund.

Many of the young men were eager to see U.S. cattle. Only UNH responded to the request, Chanoff said.

It led to an instant connection between the school and the young men. University officials began reaching out and recruiting the young men from Sudan.

But few were ready for college, even though education was the main thing most of them were seeking.

When they arrived in the United States in 2001, they had no high school transcripts, no definitive birth dates, weak English skills and no knowledge of the college admission process.

Even their ages were in question. Most Sudanese refugees have either lost contact with their parents or their parents have died. Because virtually no birth records exist, most Sudanese refugees celebrate Jan. 1 as their birthday.

Some entered community colleges to get the equivalent of a high school diploma and academic transcript. Once they were able to demonstrate their ability, UNH started accepting Sudanese students.

Moses Ajou and John Akok were the first to attend UNH, in the fall of 2002. Abraham Piol, Jacob Mabil and Peter Guguei arrived the next semester.

Now Sudanese young men are attending colleges and universities throughout the region.

They are at Boston College, Brandeis University, Wheaton College, Dartmouth College and the University of Massachusetts, Chanoff said.

“UNH really took the lead on this whole thing,” said Chanoff, who is a former professor at Tufts University. “They’ve really been extraordinary.”

According to Kim Billings, a spokeswoman for UNH, there is seldom a cause that receives such rapid and widespread support as helping the Sudanese access higher education.

But that doesn’t mean the university lowered its standards to let them in. They had to go through the same admission process as other students, Billings said.

“The outcomes have been phenomenal,” Billings said. “The life experience they bring to campus humbles all of us.”

The Sudanese young men are among a small minority of black students at the university, but UNH has a good track record for students of color earning degrees, said Jibril Salaam, an admissions officer at the school.

UNH graduates 66 percent of its black students, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. By comparison, the University of Massachusetts, which has more minority students, graduates 47 percent of its black students.

“The university prides itself in creating a welcoming, rich academic community that supports and inspires our ever-expanding diverse student population,” UNH President Ann Weaver Hart said in a prepared statement. “Our black students are an integral part of our community and we are committed

to supporting their academic success.”

Jonathan Van Fleet can be reached at 594-6465 or vanfleetj@telegraph-nh.com.

On the net

Sudanese Education Fund: www.sudaneseeducationfund.org