Kon trade his AK-47 for a pen.
CMSF was founded by Kon Kelei. Kon was born in South Sudan in 1983, the year the civil war in Sudan started again after a seize fire which lasted eleven years. At the age of four, Kon was taken by the Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA). When he was ten, he managed to escape life as a child soldier for the SPLA. He fled to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. He went to school there and was able to work and save money. This money he used in 2000, at the age of 17, to flee to The Netherlands after he was summoned to join the Sudanese army, which was fighting against the SPLA. He paid people smugglers to bring him to Europe and when he arrived in Rotterdam, he thought he was in England. It was not until he saw a poster of the Dutch footballer Edgar Davids he realized he was in The Netherlands.
In The Netherlands Kon continued his education and he went to a secondary school. After graduating, he went to study International and European Law at the Radboud University Nijmegen. Besides being a student, Kon is an active spokesman for the Dutch organization War Child, a co-founder of the Network of Young People Affected by War (NYPAW), a network supported by the United Nations, and an actor in several movies and series. Recently he met Pope Benedictus in Rome and he spoke to the United Nations in New York. He also played a role in the Dutch movie ‘Wit Licht’ which is about child soldiers and was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009. Kon also received a student award at the Radboud University Nijmegen and graduated in 2010 as a Master in International and European Law.
In addition to all the above, Kon founded his own foundation in 2005, called the Cuey Machar Secondary school Foundation (CMSF). Its primary goal is to enable secondary schooling in his hometown. During his visit to Sudan in 2006, after founding CMSF, Kon spoke to several children in Cuey Machar, who were walking around with weapons. Kon told them to put their weapons down and to go to school. The kids asked him: ‘Which school? We have finished primary school and now there is no other school to go to.’ Kon realized that attending and graduating a secondary school is not an option for all children in Southern Sudan and that non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) pay only little attention to this fact.
Kon is very concerned about the future of the youth in Sudan, therefore he founded CMSF as soon as the peace agreement in Sudan was signed. The choice he made in focusing only on secondary schooling was made in consensus with the local population of Cuey Machar. Kon knows, unlike any other, how important it is to have the possibility to go to school and to educate yourself. This possibility is even more important is a post-conflict area, like Sudan, since education is the key to rebuild the country and to give the population a better future, and therefore also the key against poverty and ignorance. Kon: ‘A well schooled citizen knows what the government does. A well schooled citizen is capable to come up with alternate solutions in a peaceful manner. A well schooled citizen is capable to start a business and to contribute to the development of his country.‘ Kon continues: ‘I always tell the people in Sudan that in The Netherlands there are sixteen million presidents. In Sudan, there are only a few.’ Education has changed Kon, from a child soldier who only knew how to fight, into a lawyer whose most important weapons are words and his pen.
If you would like to read more of the interview with Kon Kelei, please click here.