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.
Joyce is a musician and music teacher. During twenty five years of providing music education in the Denver area, Joyce has coordinated 400 volunteers and written grants to benefit music education. Joyce first became a board member of PESS when she began teaching music classes to the Lost Boys. Her passion for education in underdeveloped countries was kindled when she went to South Sudan in 2008 to train teachers.
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.
Nina worked as a civil (environmental) engineer for Exxon’s Research and Development Company and the Environmental Protection Agency in the areas of wastewater treatment, hazardous waste mitigation and Superfund cleanups. She changed professions mid-career and was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1997 and served parishes in the Diocese of Colorado for 20 years. She also worked as a chaplain at University Hospital. She recently retired and is pleased to be a part of PESS and working for further girls’ education.
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.