Meet Jok Abraham Thon, UMBC’s first Peaceworker Global Fellow and the first Retriever from South Sudan. Thon is pursuing his master’s in entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership and plans to use these skills to continue to promote educational opportunities for other South Sudanese people.
Q: Tell us about yourself. What are the essential things you’d want another Retriever to know about you?
A: I am the father of four beautiful kids from the world’s youngest country, South Sudan. I left behind my young family in search of knowledge and skills so that when I return, I can play a part in transforming the lives of vulnerable children in my country.
When I was a refugee, it was not easy. We had our classes under trees; we didn’t have toys to play with, but I turned my bitter memories into positive energy to change the cycle of violence in my country by establishing Promised Land Primary and Secondary School with the motto of “Changing Minds from Bullets to Books.”
Let’s be great libraries for our children where they can find great stories of peace, love, and humanity. This message is for the parents and students who are our future leaders and policy makers. This principle will help them change policies that discriminate and instead create policies that embrace inclusion and equality.
Q: Tell us about your primary WHY, and how it led you to UMBC.
A: I need to use the leadership and entrepreneurial skills I will get from UMBC to help transform South Sudan into a peaceful and democratic country.
Q: What do you love about your academic program?
A: My first course was Introduction to Community Leadership and my biggest takeaway was what I called a ‘”spiderweb” from placemaking—how public parks are great places to build more inclusive and peaceful communities; they’re great places for communities to come together for entertainment and family outings; they’re great places for communities to build back trust and take away fear and misinformation. In South Sudan there are some cultures that negatively affect women and girls—I want to see how we can use this placemaking idea to create parks that will bring all people together.
In my Developing the Entrepreneurial Mindset class, I am learning skills that will help me to establish a company to sustain my school and help in establishing more schools in the hard to reach villages in South Sudan. We want to provide education to the vulnerable 2.5 million children who are not in school in South Sudan and break the cycle that prohibits many girls from finishing their schooling—about 75 percent of girls don’t finish high school due to early forced marriage and poverty.
Let’s be great libraries for our children where they can find great stories of peace, love, and humanity.
From my classes so far, I came up with two projects—one is Jonglei Multipurpose Memorial Park. It will not only be a park but also provide a great solution to the flooded villages along the River Nile as a way we can beautifully live with water as we fight climate change.
Second, is the Central Nile Paper Company that will produce paper sustainably from local sources of bamboo and papyrus for school workbooks and use the revenue from sales to support the Promised Land School while opening more schools across the country.
Q: Tell us about someone in the community who has inspired you or supported you, and how they did it.
A: My journey to UMBC came as an inspiration from the love I received from Joby Taylor (Ph.D. ’05, language, literacy, and culture) in the Shriver Center, Kenneth Baron in Academic Advising, David Di Maria in the Center for Global Engagement, Gib Mason (’95, economics) in the entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership program, and Kimberly R. Moffitt, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. This team and many more great faculty as well as staff from International Student and Scholar Services have changed my life.
I want to particularly thank Dr. Joby Taylor and his wife and children for being such a great host family. I am glad to call UMBC my sweet home far away from home.
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UMBC’s greatest strength is its people. When people meet Retrievers and hear about the passion they bring, the relationships they create, the ways they support each other, and the commitment they have to inclusive excellence, they truly get a sense of our community. That’s what “Meet a Retriever” is all about.