UNCG Campus Weekly

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Bryan School’s Omer Omer and his work with refugees are featured in film

A coup forced him to flee Sudan. At a film screening Friday night, see the life story of Dr. Omer Omer and the difference he has made in our community and beyond.

The documentary will highlight the Bryan School adjunct faculty member and his work with refugees in Greensboro. The screening will be Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, 7 p.m. in Bryan 160.

“The One Who Builds’” is a half-hour documentary film currently in production about the life and work of Omer Omer, once a Sudanese refugee, now an American citizen who is paying it forward as the director of a refugee resettlement organization. In Greensboro, Omer has transcended boundaries dictated by society, race and religion to build a new village, one friendship at a time,” the film’s web site says.

As filmmaker Peter Corolla says in a blog post, “For Omer, helping these refugees isn’t just a job – it is a calling.”

Omer is director of N.C. African Service Coalition (ASC), based in Greensboro. In a phone interview this week, Omer explained “We’re a product of a UNCG institution.” Years ago, UNCG’s Center for New North Carolinians placed an Americorps member to become the leader of what became the ASC. He also noted the many hundreds of UNCG student volunteers who have helped with his organization – “sometimes whole classes.” (See one student post.)

Omer grew up in Sudan, and received his bachelor’s in geography at the University of Khartoum. Rural development was his concentration. After three years as a journalist at Sudan National TV, there was a coup d’etat and he had to flee the country. At Kings College in England, he got his master’s in geography, specializing in third world development. He came to Florida, where he worked at a store before managing a store in Augusta, Ga. He understood there was a big Sudanese community in Greensboro – “a big incentive to come here.” He has been a Greensboro resident since 1996. He has been a program director for the organization since 1999.

He received his doctorate in geography from UNCG in December 2010. His focus was tourism as a tool of economic development. “Lots of statistics” are involved in his research, he notes.

As the filmmakers say in a blog post, he is “a husband, a father, a social worker, and a community elder and spokesman, all at the same time.”

In 2010, Omer received the Nancy Susan Reynolds Race Relations Award, sponsored by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

About 40 percent of those the organization helps, today, are not African. They help those from Bhutan to Burma, he says. Their web site carries the broader title N.C. African and World Services Coalition. Many refugees they help, due to employment offers, ultimately reside in other parts of the state or South Carolina, he says.

When he started at the organization, it was as an African helping fellow Africans, he explains. But his vision is more expansive now. “I’m an American citizen now, part of the community.”

Omer is an adjunct professor in the Marketing, Entrepreneurship, and Hospitality and Tourism Department at UNCG’s Bryan School. His focus in leading classes is third world sustainable development and issues/trends in contemporary tourism.

The UNCG Graduate School, of which he is an alumnus, will sponsor the screening Friday.

A trailer for the film may be seen at the documentary web site.

By Mike Harris