FARMINGTON — A refugee from war-torn Sudan, Aruna Kenyi will return to his homeland for the first time this summer with a plan to help students in his native village.

Now a student at the University of Maine at Farmington, Kenyi, 21, hopes to reunite with the parents and family members he hasn’t seen since he was about 5-years old. But that’s not the only reason he’s returning.

He chose to return to the Republic of South Sudan in Africa to work on a independent-study project as part of his effort to become either a community educator or school health coordinator, he said. His goal is to start a school-lunch program at the primary school in his home village of Kansuk.

A community health education and recreation major with a concentration in school health at UMF, Kenyi knows students need food to learn.

A basic meal of beans and rice, one that doesn’t require refrigeration, will help the students keep learning, he said.

“The children are in school all day with no food provided. I see my life here in school and thought it would be a great idea,” he said.

To accomplish the goal, he plans to engage people and officials there to help with the project and keep it going after he returns to UMF for the fall semester.

“The plans that he has are a wonderful example of taking education into practice in a very meaningful way,” Maurice Martin, UMF associate professor of community health education, said.

Documentary filmmakers from Maine and New York will go with him to record the work and his homecoming.

It has been a long journey for him and he has written a memoir, “Between Two Rivers,” a story of the places he fled and the people who played an important part in his life, he said.

Kenyi’s village, one between two rivers in southern Sudan, was destroyed during a civil war. He became separated from his parents at about age 5 but remained with three brothers, he said. After searching for home, the boys ended up in a refugee camp in Uganda where they waited for a chance to migrate to another country, a lengthy process of applications and interviews, he said.

When he was 14, the brothers traveled to Virginia where he spent his freshman year, he said. They then moved to Portland, Maine, and he graduated from Portland High School. During those high school years, he learned that his parents were still alive.

He also started his book during high school and saw it published by The Telling Room, a nonprofit writing center in Portland.

For the help he has received along the way, he wants to give back by returning to Sudan and helping people there, he explained.

Others have stepped in to help him with the project.

As a member of Rotaract, a college-based Rotary group, Kenyi presented his idea to Rotaract members who became excited about it, Alison Terry, UMF assistant professor of psychology and Rotaract advisor, said. More about his plans can be found on YouTube by searching under this name, she added.

A rotarian herself, Terry and the local Rotary group is applying for a rotarian district grant to help support the Rotaract club’s efforts to fund Kenyi’s lunch project. If awarded, the funds would be sent to a Sudanese Rotary club, which would help put the funds in place in Kenyi’s home town, she said.

The Rotaract group will sell ice cream sundaes during UMF’s annual Michael D. Wilson Symposium from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, at Mantor Green. Funds raised from the requested $3 donation per sundae will help with the project.

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