Feed on

Putting the Baby to Bed

I haven’t had a literal baby to put to bed for seven years now, but I’ve had a metaphorical one—the Sudanese scholarship organization I’ve been a part of—for the past six. I joined when the group was just coming off its peak of fundraising and scholarship allocation, and I took over as director the year we celebrated the graduation of 12 refugees.

For the last 2-3 years, there has been a sense of slowing or winding down.  But then there would arrive another unexpected check, another surprise benefactor, and another grateful and talented student. So we’d continue, and I’d wait for a clear sign that it was time to call it a day.

That sign has come, and I’m putting one of my babies to bed.  It is turning out to take a fair amount of physical energy to close up shop, and even more mental energy to remind myself that this is the right thing to do. Like so many endings, this is hard.

So why is it time to close? For reasons both personal and professional. On the personal end, our board is tapped out, and a series of major changes in life circumstances has resulted in half of our board members needing to step down. On the professional end, in the parlance of the non-profit industry, we are no longer meeting donor intent. For some time now our scholarship pool has drifted from non-citizen Sudanese refugees pursuing bachelor’s degrees to newly arrived refugees working on their GED, Sudanese graduates pursuing advanced degrees, and the children of Sudanese refugees starting college.

These are all worthy goals and deserve support, but it’s not what our donors think they are giving to and it’s not what our organization set out to do. The final sign came a month ago, when applications arrived for our most recent scholarship cycle. Three out of ten met our original selection criteria. Then I learned that one of our founding board members, the last Southern Sudanese to remain on our board, was planning a move and needed to resign his position. Tea leaves don’t get much clearer than that.

My letter to donors struck a celebratory tone. We have largely accomplished our mission, having disbursed over $160,000 in the form of 244 individual scholarships over the course of 9 1/2 years. We’ve celebrated approximately 100 post-secondary degrees, including three masters degrees. And we’ve done all of this without spending a single dollar of donor money.We are set to award our last round of scholarships at the decade mark, which seems quite tidy. Our original applicant pool, the Lost Boys of South Sudan, still face many obstacles in life, but they are neither lost nor boys. They are now family men in their 30s, many of whom have finished their schooling and most of whom are now proud US citizens.

And yet, even as I type all of this and even as I know it to be true, I am still wrestling with guilt. Because even through all the signs point to closing up shop, there is still need. Helping Darfuri refugees take ESL classes is not what our organization set out to do, but we’ve been doing it. We can’t effectively fund-raise when our undergraduate pool has dwindled to 5 or 6, but those 5 or 6 still need help.

What’s more, because we are disbursing scholarships right now for the Winter 2015 term, my inbox is now full of grateful refugees God-blessing me for my work and calling me an angel. Rarely has such kindness made me feel so awful.

Next March, we plan to assemble our board past and present to celebrate and lift our glass to a job well done. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m going to need a good cry in the bathroom first. And then? Well, and then I’m going to look for a new gig—volunteer or otherwise—helping refugees. Only a new beginning is going to make this end feel right.


One Response to “Putting the Baby to Bed”

  1. Amanda says:

    You did a great thing, and something that few achieve–you worked yourself out of a job. Look on it as a triumph, and move on to where your talents are more needed.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.