Tom Prichard pursues peace, education in South Sudan


Tom Prichard is working to build 41 schools in the new nation of South Sudan. But he is also building something else: peace between former enemies in this war-torn region of East Africa.

South Sudan, which gained independence in July, has one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world. The need for better education is plain. And after decades of civil war, the need to build peace between former enemies is equally urgent.

Mr. Prichard uses one to support the other. “The pathway to peace has to be doing things that grow grass-roots reconciliation and understanding,” says Prichard, executive director of Sudan Sunrise, the nonprofit group he founded in 2005.

In the 55 years since it gained independence from Egypt and Britain, Sudan has been in a state of nearly constant civil war. From 1983 to 2004, the hard-line Islamist regime of Omar al-Bashir waged war against the largely Christian population in the south.

The regime pitted regions, tribes, and religious groups against one another. The Muslims in Darfur, a province in western Sudan, were used to do the dirty work against the Christian southerners – burning villages, killing civilians, and taking slaves. After 22 years of civil war, 2.5 million southern Sudanese had been killed and 4 million displaced.

An ordained Episcopal priest from the Washington, D.C., area, Prichard has been involved in mission work for his entire adult life. But it was when he moved to Overland Park, Kan., a Kansas City suburb, in 2003 to be the missions pastor of an Episcopal church that he came to be involved with relief work in Sudan.

Prior to his arrival, the church had helped found a network of some 40 Su­dan­ese churches of various denominations across the United States. By this time, the tables had turned in Sudan and the government was perpetrating what was widely seen as genocide on the people of Darfur.

While few southern Sudanese felt much compassion toward their former enemies, in a stunning gesture of forgiveness the leaders of the Sudanese churches in the US voted unanimously to aid the Darfurians. The decision was controversial within the US Sudanese community.

In 2004, Prichard organized a relief trip that sent an American surgeon and three southern Sudanese to a refugee camp in eastern Chad to deliver a small shipment of medicine and to hold out an olive branch to the southerners’ former enemies.

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