This is the first post in a series I’m calling “Artist’s Who Care”….because there really ARE more important things in the world than pretty patterns. Yes, it’s true.

My friend Cynthia Davis is a talented decorative artist…. but her most important focus these days is as a devoted board member of Hope For Ariang, a non profit organization which is helping to bring primary education to war torn areas of Sudan. Cynthia is working closely with Hope’s founder, Gabriel Bol Deng, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan“.   


Gabriel was 10 years old when North Sudan government-sponsored militiamen led a violent attack on his village in South Sudan in 1987. He fled, not knowing the fate of his parents or siblings. After his escape, Gabriel embarked on a harrowing, four month journey across the Nile River and the untold miles of desert, surviving disease and paralyzing hunger to reach Ethiopia. While at the Dimma Refugee Camp in Ethiopia, Gabriel first learned English by writing on cardboard with pieces of charcoal. Four years later, he fled from violence again, leaving Ethiopia and traveling cross-country to Kenya, where with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Gabriel received an education at the Kakuma Refugee Camp.

In 2001, Gabriel came to the United States, and along with other Sudanese refugees he received help resettling in New York State. After settling in Syracuse in 2001, Gabriel earned an Associate’s of Arts degree in Mathematics and Science at Onondaga Community College in 2004.  He then continued with his education at Le Moyne College where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics Education and Philosophy, in 2007.  He was named “Student Teacher of the Year” by the Education Department.


In May 2007 Gabriel returned to South Sudan after 20 years to search for his family, a journey documented in the upcoming film ‘Rebuilding Hope’. Upon his return, he founded Helping Offer Primary Education (HOPE) for Sudan with a mission to provide educational opportunities and health services to Sudanese people adversely affected by political turmoil in Sudan. Gabriel has thrived in the United States and is now working to help his village enhance their education by building, maintaining and supporting the Ariang School. He strongly believes that education is key to achieving lasting peace and development in his native Sudan.


Cynthia became involved with Gabriel’s organization through her daughter Stephanie’s high school work with Students Taking Action Now in Darfur. To date, she  has helped the organization raise over $20,000 by working to introduce Gabriel and his powerful story around the state of Connecticut.  An even more personal touch-she now sells her home-baked granola, “Cereal of Hope” at local farm market’s and to devoted customers, helping to raise an additional $1400. With the help of these fundraising efforts, the organization has now drilled 4 wells in Southern Sudan and plans on breaking ground on a first school there this December.

If you’re like me, you may not find the time to work on fundraising, help dig wells, build a school, or even bake granola….but it only takes few minutes and a few dollars to make a difference. Yes, it’s true.

6 Responses to “Artists Who Care: Cynthia Davis”

  1. Debbie Says:

    Cynthia – now I know you never sleep. Understand your passion after trips to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya. Glad we got to see each other recently. Loving my necklace!

    Debbie Hayes

  2. Gabriel Bol Deng Says:

    Dear Melanie,

    What a wonderful article!

    Thank you so much for featuring the work of our foundation on your website.
    Cynthia has given the most precious gift of the time and money to help us bring the gift of education and safe drinking water to the children.

    It takes a “small thoughtful, committed” global citizens like you and Cynthia to make a difference!

    Thank you for donating your time to bring HOPE into the spotlight on your website!

  3. Melanie Says:

    Dear Gabriel,

    It is an honor to have you visit my blog and my extreme pleasure to help you cause in any SMALL way that I can!

    I highly encourage people to watch the short video clip from the upcoming documentary video on your story and mission.

    Bless you and all that you are trying to accomplish!


  4. Heather Bruno-Sears Says:

    It was such a pleasure to meet Cynthia during our January 2009 painting adventure in Marrakech, Morocco! A very creative, passionate, compassionate, warm and energetic soul. I am so proud to hear of her involvement in Gabriel’s HOPE foundation. Dear Gabriel, I live in the Finger Lakes Region of Central New York…where you attended college! Your life and mission is great inspiration…the work of angels. Thank you for sharing the good news Melanie. Hearts made of gold!

  5. NIchole Blackburn Says:

    This article just touched me so deeply. Gabriel’s story of perseverance and hope is so inspiring and brought tears to my eyes. The situation in Darfur is very close to my heart, and I couldn’t agree more on the importance of education.

    Cynthia you are truly amazing to dedicate so much of your time to this cause! I would love to offer my services to the new school being built, as well as anything else I can help with.

    And Melanie – You continue to “Wow” me with all the support and love you show us artists. You are truly inspiring – Bravo to you all!


    Nichole Blackburn
    Founder, Big Sky Countries, 501(C)3 Nonprofit

    Owner/Creative Director
    Celadon Studio and Fine Art

  6. Debi Boccanfuso Says:

    Hi Cynthia
    I am Debi from Middlesex Middle School. I am doing the Famine at my church next weekend. You and Gabe both told me he was out of town until the 28th….however….I am desperately looking for a copy or two of his DVD documentary….Jessica Reinheimer did not have a copy – Where can I get one from you???? PLEASE?? I can pick it up from anywhere if you have it…….my cell number is 203-984-7879
    Thanks. Debi