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A capella concert to benefit book collection for overseas library

Center for International Studies takes part in efforts to help South Sudan Media Forum

When Sandra Sleight-Brennan, an Athens native, shared stories of the media in South Sudan with an audience from Ohio University’s Center for International Studies in January, an opportunity to help unfolded.

Her experiences during fall 2010 as a senior journalism trainer for Sudan Radio Service and contributor to the South Sudan Media Forum, a new organization dealing with the role of journalism in a new democracy, inspired the center to support the group’s efforts by donating books to its budding library.

“Books are a huge commodity,” Sleight-Brennan said. “I mean, there just aren’t any books.”

Christine Pirot, a graduate student at the center, said she personally believed OHIO could offer more and started a campus-wide book drive during winter quarter finals week that has collected more than 100 books. The E.W. Scripps School of Journalism also contributed a crateful of books, according to Sleight-Brennan.

The collection ends this week, and the focus has now shifted to sending the books to the media library in Juba.

This Wednesday at 7 p.m., four acapella groups will perform a concert at Baker Center Theater to raise money for book shipments. Tickets for the concert cost $3 and can be purchased at the door.

Pirot said that as Americans we are able to understand the importance of a free press, and she hopes that the library will benefit the whole of South Sudan as it educates journalists. Only members of the independent press will be given access to the library, located across from the Ministry of Information.

“This library will give them the support to build upon their education, to expand their knowledge of African affairs, world affairs, writing and grammar, ethics and politics,” Pirot said.

Construction for the library began two weeks after Sleight-Brennan informed the group that Ohio University would be contributing books. OHIO alumnus Colin Lasu is currently continuing work on the project in Juba. With the building complete, Sleight-Brennan said adding bookshelves might be the next step.

“People are really hungry for knowledge,” Sleight-Brennan said. “They want to understand how the world works and then how their country, this new country, works in connection with all that.”

Regardless of their many needs, Sleight-Brennan said the people of South Sudan are hopeful and ready to move forward.

The library will serve as a location for journalists to teach one another and discuss multiple story angles.  In the past, Sleight-Brennan said many journalists were limited to pulling sound bites from press conferences because of issues surrounding press freedom.

“The soldiers and police are very suspicious of anybody who has any kind of recording equipment, and at the same time the country hasn’t yet written any laws to protect the press,” she said.

Earlier this year, more than 98 percent of the citizens of South Sudan voted for independence. Numerous decisions, including those about the press and other institutions, accompanied the results of the referendum. South Sudan is set to become the globe's newest country on July 9.

Book donations will be accepted through the end of the week and can be brought to the April 27 concert or the lobby of the Yamada House.