Q&A with Ryan Boyette
Ryan Boyette is the founder of To Move Mountains, which he began in 2018 to address the critical gap in education in Nuba.
As a humanitarian aid worker, journalist, and change-maker, Ryan Boyette has spent over 15 years living in the remote Nuba mountains of Sudan, where he eventually met his wife Jazira. They now have two children, Eben (age 5) and Kandaka (age 2).
Here are a few questions that people most often ask:
What brought you to Sudan?
After college I read an article explaining how the Sudan government was systematically burning down churches and destroying villages. I was moved by what those people must have endured and as I did more research I learned that these atrocities had been happening for nearly 30 years. The more I researched, the more frustrated I became. Despite the risks, I felt called to go to Sudan and do something.
On April 24, 2003, fresh out of college - and now a humanitarian aid worker, I landed on a small dirt runway in a very remote part of Sudan called the Nuba Mountains. Over the course of the next eight years - thanks to an extended cease-fire - I was able to learn about the conflict, the language, the culture, and the people.
How did you and Jazira meet?
In 2007 there was a Nuba woman named Jazira that caught my eye. Jazira stood out from the rest of the Nuba woman around her. She excelled in school and was known in her community as being hard working, honest and committed to Christ.
Jazira’s entire life had been consumed by the war. Her memories growing up are of famine, the burning of her village, and family members killed. But despite her hardships she never lost her faith and never gave up her dream of an education.
We were married on February 19, 2011 and it was a big wedding, even for Nuba standards - over 6,000 people attended our wedding.
What happened with the conflict?
Just four months after we married, the peace process fell apart and war began again. Our life - and everyone’s life in Nuba - quickly changed to survival mode.
The Sudan government started bombing the Nuba people and sent in soldiers to burn down villages. The Nuba rebels started to defend themselves and kept the government soldiers away as a front line was established. All organizations started to evacuate including Samaritan’s Purse. But even though I had the means to leave, I felt like I needed to stay.
Why stay in a war zone?
Someone needed to tell the story to the rest of the world. I immediately started to pull together some Nuba volunteers and created a media organization called Nuba Reports to document the atrocities by the government.
What did you do with Nuba Reports?
The Nuba Reports team were the only people getting any information about the war out to the rest of the world. We gained credibility and recognition and were able to get our work into media outlets including New York Times, Fox News, MSNBC and many others. I was fortunate to tell our story bringing notable journalists to Nuba like Nicholas Kristof, Ann Curry, and Greta Van Sustern. Even George Clooney - someone who was surprisingly well-educated on the conflict - came out for a visit to Nuba with our team. Light was being shed on this dark place of the world and the government of Sudan did not appreciate it.
What’s it like living in a conflict area?
Unlike Syria, bombing in Nuba was intermittent and didn’t occur everyday. The Sudan government used bombing as a tool to prevent the Nuba people from living stable lives. People were afraid to plant their crops, so they went hungry. Teachers were afraid to go to school, so children went without education. Every time an airplane flew overhead everyone dropped whatever they were doing to hide safely in caves. It was a war of attrition designed to force the Nuba people to flee.
In May, 2012 the Sudan government bombed our house while we were home. Jazira was 7 months pregnant at the time. When the bomb hit and exploded, shrapnel flew over our heads as we took cover, narrowly missing us. God truly protected us.
Jazira gave birth to our son Eben in 2012 and 3 years after that she gave birth to our daughter Kandaka - both children were born in our home in Nuba. Despite being born in a war zone our kids loved the community, involving themselves in everyday activities like farming.
Is the conflict ongoing?
Due in part to the work of Nuba Reports, the Sudan government has stopped bombing and fighting in Nuba for the past 2 years. Jazira and I decided that it was the right time to move back to the US so that Jazira could go back to college and I could pursue my passion to improve education in the Nuba Mountains through a nonprofit
Why education for Nuba?
Through my experience, I have seen that education is the only form of development that is sustainable because it is stored in our minds. Education provides hope, determination and ability and this is the foundation to change.
We founded To Move Mountains in order to tackle oppression, the lack of development, and poor governance by improving access to quality education. We believes that a strong curriculum based on critical thinking and taught with innovative teaching methods will bring long term solutions to issues that plague areas of conflict around the world.