Monday, May 16, 2011

People You Should Know: Akera Emmanuel

Akera Emmanuel is the office manager at Cornerstone Children's Home and one of the founders of an organization in Nimule that presents community health training all around South Sudan. He is an unrelenting supporter of the Arsenal Football Club. Akera is also a good friend, someone I feel proud to know.

I first met Akera in 2006 on my first trip to Sudan. He was a 21-year-old who was in the familiar predicament of coming of age and the foreign predicament of living in a country experiencing peace (or at least a lack of armed conflict) for the first time in years. I remember him from that time as a young man who projected great self-confidence, despite an uncertainty over where that confidence came from that left him hesitant and a little uncertain of himself. He was never without a camera, having figured out that he enjoyed photography and could make a little money at it by shooting portraits or sometimes just being at the right place at the right time and capturing a moment someone might want to remember. In hindsight, I recognize what a unique and bold act this was: at the time, people with cameras made the Southern Sudanese authorities very nervous. It was impossible to know who might be a northern spy come to scout out potential targets for future hostilities. But Akera trusted the depth of the relationships he had developed in his community

The Sudanese civil war was an experience that shaped him in ways deeply social and personal. Most profoundly, from boyhood he was without his father - an army medic who was posted away from his family for years at a time. Akera developed an unbreakable bond with his mother, crediting her for making him who he is today. Despite a disability which has left her with a severe limp, she worked - often doing manual labor - to put Akera and all of his brothers and sisters through primary school.

Akera wanted to continue with his education, but his mother found herself unable to support his dream. Furthermore, the village where he was raised lacked a secondary school, so at the age of 16 he moved to Nimule and found himself independent and alone.

With little economic activity in Nimule, Akera took up one of the most physically demanding jobs - one of the only jobs available - making bricks. The work requires literal mudraking to mine the materials, and then working a blazing oven in the already blazing sun. It pays very little, bricks selling at 5-10 for a dollar. Akera woke early in the morning every day, worked 2 hours making bricks, left for school (often imploring the headmaster to give Akera just a few more days to pay his school fees), returned back to the mud fields to continue with the bricks, and then made his way to the small house he rented when the sun went down to do his homework by kerosene lamp light. During school holidays he worked from sunup to sundown in the mud fields or found construction jobs when there were any to be found.

Akera finished in the top division of his class every year (except, he admits ruefully his third year - when he dropped into the second division). He finished his Ordinary Level academic work and continued on to his Advanced Levels, where he continued his daily grind and continued earning top division grades.

Akera doesn't have a hint of disdain or resentment for his absent father, his mother's disability, or how hard he had to work to complete secondary school. In adulthood he has built a relationship with his father, he takes pride in now providing for his mother as she provided for him, and he continues to dream of one day going to university...for now, though, he is content. He's an acknowledged leader who is rooted in his community, a trustworthy and conscientious worker who can balance the demands of multiple responsibilities, and a happy newlywed. He has found a balance that I still struggle to understand: he gets things done, all the while infusing his life with rich relationships.

You can stop reading here, but I want to brag about Akera little bit - about accounting and stuff. Read on at your own peril:

A few weeks ago, we hired a new administrator at Cornerstone Children's Home - Harriet Rose. Months ago, when we first arrived, I had designed a new accounting system for the home that involves a paper record of all debits and credits and a ridiculously complex Excel spreadsheet into which those records are entered and then tracked by date and category. 

Within a couple months, Akera had learned Excel and taken on the data entry. While we were away in March and April, he took over purchasing - and kept flawless paper records in addition to electronic ones. But that's not exactly what I want to brag about. 

A week and a half ago I asked Akera to show Harriet our books to help her get acquainted with how we record all of our transactions. In my mind I meant for him to show her our paper records just so she could begin to see that we have a few different accounts, and then I would train her on what goes where, how we categorize expenses, how our spreadsheet works (she, too, had never used Excel before). 

An hour later I returned and found that Akera had Harriet at the computer entering transactions into Excel...and doing it perfectly. 

I know bookkeeping is mundane. When you have delusions of grandeur about transforming the world - or at least some part of it - very rarely do those delusions involve paperwork and financial records. Still, there's no way to describe the swellng I felt in my chest when I came upon that scene. 

Akera Emmanuel - he's good people. 

1 comment: