With our generous partners and dedicated staff, together we are a beacon of hope in South Sudan. 

What Valentino and his staff have achieved in Marial Bai continues to amaze. While so many nonprofits have had difficulty executing plans in South Sudan, Valentino’s school has grown exponentially while adhering to a very lean budget.
— Dave Eggers

Marial Bai Team


Valentino was born in southern Sudan (now South Sudan), in the village of Marial Bai. He fled in the late 1980s during the second Sudanese civil war, when his village was destroyed by murahaleen—the same type of militia that currently terrorize the Darfur region of Sudan. Deng spent nine years in Ethiopian and Kenyan refugee camps, where he worked for the UNHCR as a social advocate and reproductive health educator. In 2001, he resettled to Atlanta, GA. Deng has toured the United States speaking about his life in South Sudan, his experience as a refugee, and his collaboration with author Dave Eggers on What Is the What, the novelized version of Deng’s life story. As a leader in the South Sudanese diaspora, Deng advocates for the universal right to education. In 2006, Deng and Eggers established the VAD Foundation to help rebuild South Sudanese communities by increasing educational access. In 2015, he was the Minister of Education for Northern Bahr el Ghazal and oversaw more than 800 state run schools in addition. Now, in addition to running the VAD Foundation's secondary school (Marial Bai Secondary School), Valentino is the Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility for Black Rhino (The Blackstone Group). He lives in Nairobi with his wife and four children. 

U.S. Team

Yvonne Chen, DIRECTOR of Development and U.S. Operations

Yvonne manages fundraising, internships, and all the back end support needed to implement life-changing programs for our students in Marial Bai. She brings ten years of experience in international development and nonprofit management. Prior to joining the VAD Foundation, Yvonne lived and worked abroad. She was a policy adviser at USAID in Indonesia and then Partnerships Manager at the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) in Indonesia, where she raised over $1M in annual grant revenue for deforestation-free supply chain projects in addition to overseeing the communications, monitoring and evaluation activities for thirteen projects. Yvonne holds a master’s of international development studies from The Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University and a political science degree from Middlebury College. 

Dave Eggers, Board Member, co-founder

Dave is the author of several books, including You Shall Know Our Velocity, winner of the Independent Book Award, and What Is the What, a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of France's Prix Medici. That book, about Valentino Achak Deng, a survivor of the civil war in South Sudan, gave birth to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, run by Deng and dedicated to offering quality education opportunities in South Sudan. Eggers is the founder and editor of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing house based in San Francisco that produces books, an eponymous quarterly journal, and a monthly magazine (The Believer). In 2002, with Nínive Calegari, he co-founded 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for youth in the Mission District of San Francisco. Local communities have since opened sister 826 centers in Chicago, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Ann Arbor, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Boston. In 2004, Eggers taught at the University of California–Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and there, with Dr. Lola Vollen, he co-founded Voice of Witness, a series of books using oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world. A native of Chicago, Eggers graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in journalism. He now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children. 

Phil Mays, Board Treasurer

Phil has been part of Valentino's life before What is the What or the foundation were even an idea. Phil is a principal of RocaPoint Partners. Phil was formerly the Portfolio Director and Legal Affairs Manager for EverBank Commercial Advisors, a division of EverBank (NYSE: EVER). He led the creation, implementation and management of EverBank’s commercial special assets department containing more than $1.3 billion in underperforming CRE backed debt including the management of the FDIC assisted purchase of Bank of Florida in 2010. Phil has 20 years of real estate investment, development and value maximization experience. He received his undergraduate and law degree from the University of Florida and a Leadership in Financial Organizations certification from The Harvard Business School. 

Phil has been my host, the American sponsor and mentor who agreed to help me transition to life here. A lawyer working in real estate, he bought me clothes, rented my apartment, financed my Toyota Corolla, gave me a floor lamp, a kitchen set and a cell phone, and brought me to the doctor when my headaches would not cease
— What is the What

Tiffanie DeBartolo, Board Vice President

Tiffanie is the Chief Executive of the record label, Bright Antenna. She wrote and directed the film, Dream for an Insomniac, as well as authored the novels, God-Shaped Hole and How to Kill a Rock Star. DeBartolo has a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley. 

Scott Schumaker, Board Member

Scott is the Managing Partner and Chief Operating Officer of Bright Antenna Records. Schumaker has a B.A. in Mass Communications from the University of California, Berkeley and a Master's in Journalism from the University of Colorado. Schumaker is a former professional triathlete. 

Barb Bersche, Board Member

Barb is a partner and former president of McSweeney’s Publishing. Bersche is a founding board member of both the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation and 826 Valencia. She is additionally a designer (with a Grammy-nominated box set called Alan Lomax in Haiti), a New York Times best-selling children’s book author, as well as a consultant to other creative agencies and nonprofits. Bersche is also a member of the Marin County Search and Rescue/Mountain Rescue team. 

Reece Hirsch, Board Member

Reece is a partner in the San Francisco office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius specializing in privacy, security and healthcare law. Hirsch received his J.D. from the University of Southern California Law School in 1990, where he served on the Southern California Law Review. He received his B.S. in journalism from Northwestern University in 1982. In addition to serving on the board of directors for 826 National, Hirsch is a member of the editorial advisory boards of Bloomberg/BNA's Health Law Reporter and Healthcare Informatics. He is the author of three thrillers, The Insider, The Adversary, and Intrusion that draw on his background as a privacy and data security attorney. 

Ann Goldblatt, Board President

Ann has been active in the non-profit sector for 30 years.  She oversaw capital campaigns and event planning for both Wildwood School and Windward School in Los Angeles. Ann assisted Dorothy Green, the 1st president of the environmental advocacy non-profit Heal The Bay in the organization's early days.   She has been a long term mentor/tutor to students through the Virginia Avenue Project after-school program for the Santa Monica public school system.  Ann received her B.S. in Secondary Education, English & French, from Ohio State University and attended the Interior Architectural Design program at Santa Monica City College.  She is currently an art consultant to several fine artists in Southern California.

Greg Larson, Board Secretary

Greg first joined the VAD Foundation at its beginning, serving as associate director from 2007 to 2011 and helping oversee the establishment of the Marial Bai Secondary School. He now works at the U.S. Treasury Department as a senior advisor in the international affairs division. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in literature and from Harvard Kennedy School with a master's in public policy. 

Leslie Danoff, Board Member

Leslie, a former television news and public affairs producer, writer and researcher, is a pro bono communications consultant to non-profits. Among her professional highlights: working with Bill Moyers in public television and with Walter Cronkite at CBS News on Election Night. At CBS, Leslie worked on News Specials and documentaries and developed multi-part series for the Morning News. At New York’s public television station, WNET, she won an Emmy for a public affairs series devoted to critical New York City issues. The mother of three sons, Leslie is an independent documentary filmmaker, an artist, and a graduate of the first class of women at Yale. She formerly served on the Board of Directors of Rainforest Trust.

Elizabeth Bloom, Advisory Council

Elizabeth Ann Bloom (D.H.M., D.I.Hom.) is the founder and creative force behind Elizabeth Essentials, an essential oil company sold worldwide. Elizabeth has diplomas in homeopathy, naturopathy and holistic medicine and has been a holistic health practitioner for more than 40 years. She founded and managed the Doree South Clinic in Los Angeles and the Well Center in London, both innovative leaders in the field of holistic medicine. A popular speaker, Elizabeth has appeared on Lifestyle Magazine and in Deepak Chopra’s video series, Women’s Health. She is on the advisory board and is a contributing editor to eMagazine Invisible Illnesses: SOLVED and is on the advisory board of the Well company in New Orleans.

Jen herman, Advisory Council

Jen Herman brings nearly 20 years of digital entertainment, social media, video games and technology experience to her role as founder of Lucky 29 Media. Ms Herman's extensive professional background includes experience in product development, licensing, business development, distribution and marketing at leading entertainment and gaming companies including Viacom/MTV, Electronic Arts, Zynga and a number of Bay Area mobile gaming companies. 

Megan Carroll, Advisory Council

Megan Carroll is from San Diego, CA. Last year, she served as a White House Fellow at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations’ Washington, DC office. Prior to this, she led the United Nations Development Program’s Democracy and Participation portfolio in South Sudan focused on the constitutional review process and elections. She has also served as Acting Director/Deputy Director of The Carter Center’s Democracy and Conflict Resolution Programs in South Sudan and Sudan; Democracy and Governance Advisor to USAID at a critical juncture when the mission transitioned from a U.S. Consulate to Embassy in a newly-independent South Sudan; and an international observer for South Sudan’s referendum on independence. 

Charles Crompton, ADVISORY COUNCIL

Charles Crompton is a judge in the San Francisco Superior Court. Before that, Crompton was the Legal Director at Glide Foundation, one of San Francisco’s largest social service providers. Crompton founded a free legal clinic at GLIDE in 2012, working pro bono while still a partner at a private law firm, Latham & Watkins LLP. In 2014, Crompton left Latham to dedicate himself to GLIDE full-time. GLIDE sits in the Tenderloin, one of San Francisco’s most neglected neighborhoods. It has served the poor and disenfranchised there for 50 years. It provides emergency supplies to thousands of people, books thousands of shelter beds, and helps homeless people move into permanent housing. GLIDE also provides HIV testing, mental and primary health care, women's programs, crisis intervention, an after-school program, creative arts and mentoring for youth, literacy classes, computer training, job skills training, drug and alcohol recovery programs, housing with case management, and much more. Until Crompton opened the clinic, however, GLIDE lacked the means to provide legal services. Crompton was a partner at Latham from 1999-2014. Before Latham, Crompton was a law clerk for the Honorable Jane R. Roth at the U.S. District Court, District of Delaware from 1988 to 1989. Before that, he earned a JD from Columbia Law School in 1988 and a BA from Columbia College in 1984. In 2014, Crompton received the State Bar of California’s President’s Pro Bono Service Award. In 2010, he received recognition from the California State Senate and State Assembly for his pro bono work with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area. He also won recognition for his work on behalf of veterans through Swords to Plowshares. And he served on the Legal Services Commission’s Pro Bono Task Force in 2011-12.Crompton served as a Commissioner on the State Bar of California’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation from 2010-11. And he served as Chair of the State Bar of California’s Antitrust and Unfair Competition Law Section from 1998-99. Since 2005, Crompton has edited a Matthew Bender treatise, Crompton, Dunwoody & Tigar, California Contract Litigation.


DeBartolo Family Foundation
Shinemaker Foundation / Tiffanie DeBartolo & Scott Schumaker
M. Night Shyamalan Foundation
James Gleick & Cynthia Crossen
Neil & Anna Mintz
Jolie-Pitt Foundation
Google Inc. Charitable Giving Fund
George Clooney
John Prendergast
The Abundance Foundation
Marie Field
Leslie Danoff & Lawrence Robbins
J. Boylston and the Boylston Family Foundation
Richard Baks
The Good Works Institute
Olav Grewe
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Jerry & Dena Wald
In honor of Stephane Yulita / Monique Knowlton
Yolie Moreno
The Apatow Family Foundation
Peter & Terra McKinnish-Harliee
The Ginder Family Foundation
The Lois Pope Life Foundation
The Schwartz Family Foundation
The Segal Family Foundation
In honor of Susan Rauch / The Charles Engelhard Foundation
Bobby Newmeyer Memorial Fund / Deborah Newmeyer
Sarah and Matthew Pincus Foundation / The Wooden Nickel Foundation
Jon-Mark & Colleen Chappellet
Clinton Global Initiative
Nicholas Kristof

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