Daniel Majok Gai – Executive Director
“My work as PESS Executive Director is empowering both me and the community. I’m extremely proud of what I’m doing and its benefits to the South Sudanese. I realize I am a role model for those with whom I work in the villages, especially because many of the International NGOs hire only European or Americans at top Director positions.”
Daniel Majok Gai, PESS Executive Director
Daniel came to the United States in 2001 as a twenty-year-old refugee. At the age of six, he had escaped into the bush alone when a northern militia attacked his southern Sudanese village. He spent the next fourteen years in camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, having trekked thousands of miles, first into Ethiopia, and then, when the “Lost Boys” were driven out of that region, to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Daniel received his high school certificate in Kakuma, where he learned under a tree, without pens or paper. Hear his story on NPR.
Daniel graduated from the University of Colorado at Denver with a B.A. in Psychology, where he won the 2010 Rosa Park Diversity Student Award. Daniel became a United States citizen in 2007. As part of the PESS team traveling to Jonglei in 2008, Daniel was reunited with his father in the village of Pagook. In Pagook, Daniel met with the village elders to negotiate PESS’s third school site (Tong Pagook Primary) and assisted with the PESS teacher training and financial literacy programs. In 2011, Daniel was appointed PESS South Sudan Director, and moved back to Jonglei to work on the ground developing and implementing PESS’s leadership and educational programs.
At the outset of the civil war in December 2013, the fighting was particularly fierce in Jonglei, resulting in thousands of deaths and widespread displacement of the civilian population during the months of open conflict there. After surviving on muddy swamp water for 10 days in the bush during the worst of the crisis, Daniel was able to evacuate to Nairobi with his wife and 10-month-old son.
When relative peace was restored to the portions of Jonglei where the PESS schools serve children, Daniel was one of the earliest returnees. Amazingly, he found that all four schools sponsored by PESS, that served 3,000 students before the conflict, were still standing.
In June 2015, Daniel became PESS Executive Director and has continued his direct work on the ground in Jonglei. He opened an office in Bor in 2016, where he works with his assistants Abuk Ayen Ayuen and Anna Angeth Awan – both PESS girl scholars and recent secondary school graduates.
Ray Stranske – Board Chair
Ray has worked in the Denver non-profit community development sector for over 30 years and for 26 years was Executive Director of Hope Communities. Ray has been a PESS Board member and the Board Chair since shortly after PESS was founded. Ray was born in Khartoum, Sudan and lived in Sudan and other African countries until he was 14. Ray traveled with the PESS team to South Sudan in 2007.
Ngor is South Sudanese and Daniel’s younger brother. Ngor was born in rural Jonglei, outside of the town of Bor, and grew up there. In 1991, militias supported by the Khartoum government burned the villages around Bor; six-year old Ngor, his mother and his siblings became refugees, first internally, then in Uganda and finally in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. In Kakuma, the family learned that Daniel, who had disappeared years before during an earlier attack on the family’s village, had survived and had resettled in Denver. Ngor and the rest of the family were able to come to Denver in 2007 under the family reunification provisions of the US immigration laws. In 2014, Ngor graduated from the Metropolitan State University of Denver with a degree in Environmental Chemistry and became a US citizen. He now works at Nestle Purina as a lab analyst. Ngor is a much-sought after speaker on the South Sudanese experience at Colorado schools and community events. He was a panelist on the April 2017 “Genocide & Human Rights in South Sudan” program at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. In a huge boost to the PESS mission, Ngor volunteers to return to Jonglei periodically and work with Daniel on the ground in South Sudan.
Lee Ann Huntington
Lee Ann is an attorney licensed in Colorado and California. Her legal practice includes over 20 years litigation experience as a partner in a prominent San Francisco law firm. She is an experienced mediator, and volunteers and teaches in various educational and legal areas. She has worked with PESS since 2009, when she helped her daughter record the stories of many Lost Boys for a high school project. Lee Ann traveled to South Sudan with Daniel and the PESS team in 2011. Lee Ann serves as Treasurer and Secretary for PESS.
Jim is a small business owner who has enjoyed a diverse career. His most memorable work was as a management consultant working with Colorado nonprofits to strengthen their skills in financial management and information technology. He has also worked as a software developer in a rapidly growing technology company and most recently built a successful online agency in the international travel business. Jim has been an active volunteer with Project Education South Sudan since its founding. He serves as Chief Financial Officer for PESS.
As a consultant for the Commission on International Justice and Accountability and, until recently, as one of the three United Nations Commissioners on Human Rights in South Sudan, Ken travels regularly to South Sudan to observe and report on the status of human rights there. In March 2017, Ken and his fellow UN Commissioners presented their Report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan. Ken also serves as an international justice consultant to Amnesty International, as well as an UN Special Prosecutor at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. From 1998 until 2011, Ken was a senior prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Ken was one of the panelists on the April 2017 DU “Genocide & Human Rights” program and speaks on these topics on a regular basis.
Dinah works in non-profit program development, focusing on efficiencies and innovation. She previously worked as a teacher and then in education policy. Dinah has a passion for social justice and sees education as one of the means to improving economic security. She earned her B.A. in Education & Bible and M.A. in Sustainable Development.
Melody Delaney, Development
Melody is finishing a Master’s of International Development at the Korbel School within the University of Denver. She started on this journey because of a transformative visit to the Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she learned about state-sanctioned mass atrocities in history and the current day. The genocide in Darfur had been raging for two years. This high school field trip was the catalyst for a deep-seated passion for humanitarian rights in East Africa, particularly the Sudan. Melody has worked with PESS as a volunteer since 2016 and was one of the authors of Project Education South Sudan: Challenges and Accomplishment in Female Education in South Sudan, which was published in The Applied Anthropologist.She is a former member of the Board of Directors for PESS and sits on the Education Committee for Team South Sudan. She lives in Denver, CO with her beloved cats.
Mary Duerksen Sklar
Mary Duerksen Sklar was raised in a family that valued education. For years, as a young girl, she thought that doctor was a first name since it applied to so many of the guests in her childhood home. Family members included a grandfather who in the early 1900s who left Kansas to study medicine at the University of Vienna, a grandmother who got a certificate indicating masters’ level work at the Art Institute of Chicago, and a father who was a university dean. She grew up in a world of ideas and of making a difference in the lives of others.
In her adult life, Mary was a mother to her two sons, Trey and Andy, and raised them while frequently moving around the country and beyond to such diverse places as Monterey, California, Washington, D.C., Mainz, Germany, and Moscow, Russia. She gained new and broader concepts as her experiences continued.
More recently Mary spent more than a decade teaching social studies in a youth detention facility. There she encountered many young people who were sometimes hard to love, although that was often a missing ingredient in their lives. She developed tools and creative methods to open the world to them, often initiating opportunities for authentic humanitarianism which in turn became instruments of healing for troubled youth.
She recently published a book, “How Do We Reach those Kids,” which has become a guide for many teachers around the nation who want to be more effective in the education taking place in classrooms and activities in their schools and organizations. She does workshops and individual consulting both in the US and around the globe, including such diverse nations as Ethiopia and Cambodia. Mary Sklar is currently a resident in Denver, Colorado.
As a global health professional, Jessica pursues the goal of health equity around the globe as a member of the humanitarian sector. Jessica held the position of Field Logistics and Data Manager for Project C.U.R.E. for the past five years. She also acted as Director of Programs for Freshwater Project International, bringing water, sanitation and hygiene to villages, schools and health centers in Malawi. Her expertise and experience includes global health monitoring & evaluation, international relations, intercultural communication and data analysis, among others.
She received her Master of Arts and Sciences in International and Intercultural Communication at the University of Denver’s Media, Film, and Journalism Studies in conjunction with the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, concurrent with a Graduate Certificate in Global Health Affairs. She also held the positions of Secretary and Treasurer for the Korbel Graduate Student Association, was a member of Students for Africa and SANTE; Students for Global Health.
She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from California State University, Northridge in 2009. Graduating with honors, she was a founding member of the CSUN Communication Association where she served as President from 2007 to 2009, and was awarded the prestigious Outstanding Senior award, presented to one student from the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communications for academic excellence and service to the community of CSUN.
Aside from her work, Jessica is on the Board of the United Nations Association, Denver Chapter, is a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children in Denver, organizes meetup political and activist groups, and is an outdoor enthusiast.