In Tribute to Manute Bol for his Humanitarian Commitment to Sudan
Jennifer McArdle Assistant Editor, IMPUMELELO Ohio University
Manute Bol Keynote Address
Sports in Africa Conference 2007
The National Basketball Association is known for a lot of things, but humanitarian work is usually not high on the list. Yet, sometimes unique individuals are able to defy group associations and perceived values. These individuals stand tall for what they believe in, and tower over the crowd because of their dedication and moral commitment to making a difference in the lives of others.
Recently, the NBA community said goodbye to one of these soaring figures, Sudanese athlete Manute Bol. The 7-foot-6 player passed away at the age of 47. Bol played in the NBA for nine years, and, at the time, was the tallest person to ever play in the league. While his basketball talent was considerable, and his shot-blocking ability undoubtedly remembered by all who came up against him, perhaps his most notable contribution lies in the humanitarian work he tirelessly championed in his native Africa. Bol spent much of his time and money promoting peace and education in Sudan.
Bol worked closely with Sudan Sunrise, an organization which promotes reconciliation in the war-torn country. According to their website, Sudan Sunrise is “a movement of Americans and Sudanese Christians and Muslims working to achieve reconciliation, unity and the end of oppression in Sudan.” While Bol was playing in the NBA, he returned often to Sudan, and once he retired, he became more politically active there.
Manute Bol addressing the African Student Union
During a 2008 trip to his village of Turalei in Sudan, Bol had made a promise to the people that he would help raise funds to build a school in the village” (Sudan Sunrise website). At the time, there are more than 300 students and 20 teachers in the school near his neighborhood but no schoolhouse for them to use. They had been teaching and learning under a tree” (Sudan Sunrise website). Bol stepped in to improve this situation, taking it several steps further. According to Janis Ricker, the operations manager of Sudan Sunrise, Bol’s goal was to build forty-one schools throughout Sudan (Yahoo! Sports). Bol placed a high value on education as a tool for peacemaking, and he was quoted as saying, “The key to peace is education.” Bol visited many times to check on the school construction and to promote peace in Darfur.
It was during one of these many visits that Bol became seriously ill. He died on June 19, 2010 from a combination of kidney failure and Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Despite Bol’s passing, the schools are still in the process of being built—the first school is nearing completion—and they will welcome both Darfurian and Southern Sudanese children, Christians and Muslims.
The vision that Bol held for Sudan, of a peaceful place where education is promoted and previously warring factions could exist side-by-side, is an astounding vision. It is made even more remarkable by the fact that Bol never received much formal education himself, but was raised to be a cattle herder. But, his heart, in addition to his stature, was oversized. He lived and died struggling for those around him. More than his height, more than his impressive career, more than his shot-blocking abilities, it was Manute Bol’s humanitarian efforts that epitomize what it means to be a hero.
Kristof, Nicholas D. “Most Valuable Helper.” New York Times. June 23, 2010.
McGeehan, Patrick. “Manute Bol, N.B.A. Player and Activist, Dies at 47.” New York Times. June 19, 2010.
Sudan Sunrise website. http://www.sudansunrise.org/index.htm. Accessed July 22, 2010.
On February 23, 2007 Manute Bol gave the keynote Address for the Sports in Africa: Health and Sciences conference at Ohio University. During his visit and participation to the conference, Carolyn Lewis, the Director and General Manager of the WOUB Center fo Public Media at Ohio Univeristy inteviewed Manute Bol. Below in three parts "One on One with with Carolyn Lewis", the complete interview
Thanks to WOUB management for allowing Impumelelo to share this content online.