Following on-campus screenings of The Good Lie, a 2014 movie starring Reese Witherspoon that tells the story of a family of Sudanese refugees resettling in the United States, actress Kuoth Wiel and Scott Fifer, director of the GO Campaign, participated in Q&A sessions with Ross students and other members of the community. They discussed their personal experiences working with refugees from Sudan and other war-torn African nations.
Scott, a former lawyer, told the audience how he founded the GO Campaign to improve the lives of orphans and vulnerable children around the world. The organization connects donors to high-impact grassroots projects aimed at changing lives and transforming communities. He had an opportunity to meet Margaret Nagle, who wrote the script for The Good Lie, and was moved to help do what he could to bring the film to as many groups and institutions as possible to help raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis in which more than 100,000 refugees from Sudan are living in camps today.
Kuoth, who was born in a refugee camp in Kenya to parents from Sudan, shared her story and related how she became involved in the film. She said each actor brought emotional connections, an important element, to the film. Two of her castmates were child soldiers, and others had walked thousands of miles to safety after their villages were destroyed and family members murdered. She herself was not reunited with her older brother until years after her parents had fled the country. “At times we had to stop filming, because the emotion was so overwhelming,” she said. Ultimately, it was important for all involved to tell the story of love of family, sacrifice, and triumph of the human spirit.
Scott and Kuoth explained that the movie is also important because it portrays the refugees’ stories in a manner that all can relate to on some level. One moving scene involves family members saying goodbye when they are relocated to different parts of the United States. They said most of us have experienced loss, and this common ground helps connect us as human beings.
The two activists encouraged students to be aware of what’s going on around the world. “One of the best actions to take is to educate yourself on the issues and share your knowledge with others,” Scott said. “That’s part of the reason we are here today. Discussion can lead to important actions.”
Students were curious about Kuoth’s experiences in the refugee camp and her first impressions of the United States. They learned that as a child, Kuoth went to a school with more than 100 students and only one book.
“In comparison, you have the opportunities, resources, and encouragement at your fingertips, so there is no excuse for you not to strive to succeed and make a personal difference in the world,” Scott said.
The group also shared a laugh as Kuoth recalled her first experiences in Minnesota, where her family was resettled. “The concept of winter was huge, and we were all freaking out about the snow. I’m still not used to it,” she said with a smile.
Kuoth plans to continue acting, but she also will lend her voice to make people aware of the issues in Africa and around that world that are not being talked about in the media. “Hundreds of thousands of people are still displaced,” she said, “and we have to do our part to help find peace.”
Scott agrees. During a final discussion with members of the community, Assistant Head of Upper School Ben Bonaventura asked how Ross could get involved in helping his and other aid organizations. Scott promised to be in touch with specific recommendations.
The interaction was a moving and important experience for the students, and they were appreciative of the opportunity to hear firsthand accounts of the programs and individuals who are making a difference for children and families across the world.
Ross School would like to thank parent Suzanna Shaw for her efforts to organize the film screenings and following inspirational discussions.