GoFundMe campaign started for international student to stay in US

With $20,000 of tuition debt, international affairs and communication studies junior Rita Nyandeng Kerubino Kuanyin started a GoFundMe campaign to raise the funds necessary to stay enrolled in classes. If the university drops Kuanyin for not paying tuition, her student visa will become invalid, and she will be forced to return to South Sudan, currently embroiled in civil war. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Nick Wagner

Raising more than $36,000 to pay off her current balance and alleviate future tuition expenses is the least of Rita Nyandeng Kerubino Kuanyin’s worries. 

As the daughter of one of South Sudan’s most recognizable rebels, Kerubino Kuanyin, Rita Kuanyin faces many repercussions. 

Kerubino Kuanyin was a leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army during the Second Sudanese Civil War. His leadership contributed to the breakup of Sudan after its government imposed Shariah law over the nation, which split into Sudan and South Sudan in 2011.

Kerubino Kuanyin, a Christian, allegedly fired the first shot to start the war in 1983. Roughly two million lives and 22 years later, a peace agreement was signed. The conflict still stands as one of the longest, most brutal civil wars to date with several human rights violations such as slavery and mass killings marking the war. 

When Kerubino Kuanyin was killed in 1999, his wives and more than 20 of his children were left to fend for themselves. Among them were Rita Kuanyin and her mother Nyalang Kuanyin.

It is common for Rita Kuanyin, a 22-year-old junior majoring in international affairs and communication studies, to go weeks without speaking to her mother. She seldom even knows where Nyalang Kuanyin is located.

Nyalang Kuanyin is currently without running water or electricity while in hiding from Kerubino Kuanyin’s political opponents. Rita Kuanyin says possessing her father’s name is reason enough to be killed because his enemies worry about another Kuanyin holding office.

“I’ve always wanted to make my mom proud because I have seen her pains,” Rita Kuanyin said. “I’ve seen what she has been through as a mother … I feel like coming to the states, I will get a very good education. Coming to the states was the best thing that happened to me in my life, and I didn’t want to destroy that opportunity.”

The opportunity transformed into reality after her stepfather, Achuil Akoch Magardit, who was South Sudan’s minister of finance, trade and industry, agreed to pay for her tuition. 

The first five semesters were paid in full, but since Magardit lost his job in 2014, the opportunity for Kuanyin has quickly become an unbearable burden.

This fall, Kuanyin said, university officials at the International Center started pressuring her to pay off her mounting debts from the spring and fall 2015 semesters. When she went to explain her situation to an employee at the International Student Office, Kuanyin claims she was met with resistance.

“The gentleman that talked to me was telling me he didn’t understand my situation,” Kuanyin said. “He just told me, ‘If things are hard, why don’t you just pack your things and go?’ That broke my heart.”

When asked for a comment, the International Student Office stated they have been and will continue to be of service to Kuanyin.

“International Enrollment Management has been working with Rita over the past year. We have discussed options that are available to her. We will continue to assist her,” Toni Dye, assistant director of the International Student Office, said.

To stay in school, Kuanyin started a GoFundMe campaign on Oct. 21 with a goal of raising $36,000 to pay off her tuition balance and to alleviate future tuition expenses throughout her final three semesters on the Hill. 

“At first I was ashamed of my situation,” Kuanyin said. “My dad was a very influential man. [I] never thought that one day I’d reach a point that I’d be asking people to [help] me financially.” 

Kuanyin works as a night clerk at Gilbert Hall and makes $410 per month: just enough money to afford rent and groceries.

After nearly two weeks, the campaign has seen 53 people donate $1,960.

To raise awareness, Kuanyin presented her situation to an intercultural communication class led by Jieyoung Kong. This professor has worked closely with Kuanyin on an internship reference letter. 

It was Kong who noticed Kuanyin was emotionally distraught.

“All I was thinking is that she can’t be deported to a fighting country; it would be inhumane,” Kong said. “It’s not right to let the process overtake a person’s life.

 “If you’re going to actively recruit international students, you have to be ready for a situation like this. You bring their histories [to WKU], not just bodies and money,” she said. 

President Gary Ransdell said that “nobody should be that disinterested in her conflict.”

After two faculty members reached out to Ransdell, the president sought out Kuanyin and is set to meet with her in the coming days about her situation.

“Any student who is experiencing difficulties, financial or otherwise — I’m interested in knowing more about this student and doing whatever I can,” Ransdell said. “I don’t know very much about her situation, her family, her life in Sudan or what her prospects might be, but I do know she’s having serious financial problems.”  

Kuanyin believes people can learn from her story to be strong and patient and not to take negative feedback too seriously because every situation can be solved.

“This opportunity at Western is such a big opportunity for me,” Kuanyin said. “Putting my story out there will definitely encourage [others] and make them believe anything is possible.”

To donate to Rita’s cause, go to: https://www.gofundme.com/keepritainschool