Within the past week, several articles have emerged discussing the returning of Sudanese refugees to their home villages after years of residence in the United States, one man , Jacob Dau, seen reunited with his family at right. More specifically, these refugees are part of a larger group of boys who together comprise the “Lost Boys of Sudan”. These young boys have a captivating and heartbreaking story, one that has also recently been the subject of two widely acclaimed documentaries, Lost Boys of Sudan (2003) and God Grew Tired of Us (2006). The boys traveled from country to country, evading civil war and narrowly escaping death, but ended up relocated in the United States. Bringing the boys to the US offers them many opportunities, but not without a price. Some of the boys become “Americanized”, and no longer have strong ties to their Sudanese origins, nor a desire to return to help their fellow Africans. Despite the fact that some loss of culture occurs, overall, this relocation program presents amazing opportunities for refugees that otherwise would be stuck in hopeless situations without a real future to look forward to.
The Lost Boys of Sudan are a product of civil war. Although each boy has had an individual experience, a general overview of the life of a “Lost Boy” has been formulated. The Second Civil War in Sudan forced these boys out of their villages, as violence plagued the region and rebels were running wild, shooting, killing and raping at will. This group of around 20,000 boys displaced from their homes proceeded to walk for hundreds of miles, day after day, all the way to Ethiopia. During their journey, they had extremely limited water and even more limited food, and over half died along the way from disease, hunger, wild animal attacks, and more. Once they reached their destination, the refugee camp within Ethiopia’s borders became their home for around four years. Then, disaster struck, and before the boys could get comfortable, they were once again forced out of their newfound homes. The Ethiopian government went through some changes, causing rebels to “t[ake] over and expel the refugees” and frequently attack the camps. The boys set out, barefoot again, but this time to refugee camps in Kenya (see boy crossing Kenyan border below). From there, “the United States government assumed care for some of the Lost Boys”, and around 3,800 boys were relocated to various cities in the United States to escape conflict and for the chance of better opportunities than their African villages could offer.
Life for the refugees in America is vastly complicated. Upon arrival, as depicted in God Grew Tired of Us, the boys know absolutely nothing about the ways of American cities. From the moment they step off the planes, they are faced with boundaries to overcome, such as how to use an escalator and automatic doors in the airport. Mentors, sponsors and volunteers in the new city are responsible for aiding the boys in their shocking transitions. They are taken to their new apartments, and literally taught everything as if they were empty slates. There is nothing in an average American apartment that they would be familiar withusing. “They have no knowledge of technology”, and need to be told how to turn on the lights, what a shower is, how to use a toilet, what is edible in a super market⎯ everything most Americans take for granted been familiarized with and knowing how to use.
The refugees are starting life over from scratch, as if vulnerable, naïve children, who know nothing of the new world they are suddenly forced into. Not only do they have trouble with American appliances, but also the American lifestyle. Many of the refugees must work two or more jobs at all hours of the day just to support themselves, as well as send money back home to their families. In addition to work, they also attend classes at university or high school. They are awarded the luxury of having their own money, which can lead to consumerism and the boys possessing items that they would never have even known existed if they stayed back in Sudan, such as cars, Blackberry cell phones, and nice business suits. Once they do eventually feel comfortable in their environments, the desire to fit in and acculturate is strong, and they can easily get caught up in the American way. One Lost Boy, Macharia Yuot, said it best as he remarked, “when you’re here, you get so used to the lifestyle”. It is much more appealing to live comfortably than to go on suffering for something that is now so far away.
Fortunately, not all of the Lost Boys feel this way. Many are set on making a difference in the villages that they originated from, never fully being able to let their pasts slip out of their minds. Almost all have lost or dead family members to think of, and friends who they’ve left back home and hope to some day offer a better life. For these reasons, they are “doing what they can to nurture peace there [in their villages]”. Chris Garang, (pictured at right) a Lost Boy, plans to build a clinic in his home village to provide medical supplies and care to his people. Samuel Mayuol has decided to aid in the process of drilling a well in his village so that more of his friends and family will be able to have clean water. And Gabriel Deng will build a school in his village, as he believes education is crucial to healing the people and starting anew. These boys, along with several others, have graduated or are in the process of taking classes at universities in their American cities, and have formed non-profit organizations to help in fundraising and spreading awareness about issues in their native Sudan. Although a select few may become Americanized and desire to take the simpler path in forgetting their roots, most of the boys feels strong emotional ties to Africa and Sudan, and want to do all they can to ease the suffering of their families and peoples back home. They realize “they are among the fortunate ones”, and believe divine intervention has caused them to be where they are today. Hence, they do not want to waste any of the precious time they have been given with their survival.