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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 August 2004, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Sudan's 'lost boys' in America
By Leslie Goffe
BBC, New York

Sudan's lost boys have found a home in America.

Santino (right) left the refugee camp in Kenya with high hopes
Orphaned youngsters, they fled their villages in Sudan in the 1980s, afraid they would be slaughtered as many of their families were by government troops.

The lost boys - so called because they had to fend for themselves without parents or elders - set out on an extraordinary journey across Africa that took them to Ethiopia, back to Sudan and to refugee camps in Kenya.

Three years ago, the United States government agreed to allow 3,600 of them to begin new lives in America.

"I don't worry now that if I sleep that people are going to shoot me," says 19-year-old Abraham Maker, who arrived in the US in 2001 along with thousands of others.

One night soldiers representing the mostly Muslim northern government came to Abraham's village in Sudan's Christian south.

They shot and killed the men and older boys and took the young girls and women away with them.

The young boys who survived banded together and fled, beginning a year-long journey across Africa.

Thousands were either shot by pursuing soldiers, drowned, died of hunger, or were eaten by wild animals.


"I do not worry now about war," says Abraham, who was adopted by an American family and now lives in a suburb in Connecticut near New York, where he plays soccer and is a runner for his high school athletics team.

Santino has struggled to get an education
Abraham has been luckier than other lost boys, many of whom have had difficulty adjusting to life in America.

All hoped they would get a high school and university education in the US and one day return to Sudan.

But getting an education has turned out to be the lost boys biggest problem. Because neither the boys nor the re-settlement agencies knew their correct ages, caseworkers simply guessed.

The lucky ones were those judged to be below the age of 18.

They were allowed to complete their secondary educations at high school and go onto junior colleges free of charge.

The unlucky ones, those judged to be above 18, were too old for high school and so had to go to work. As they had no qualifications they were forced to take menial, low-paying jobs.


This is what happened to Santino Majok Chuor who arrived in Houston, Texas aged 21 in 2001.

"I did not manage to go to school," he says sadly, "because I could not find the time."

Too old to attend high school, he works loading trucks for minimum wage.

Santino tried working in the day and studying at night but found it impossible.

With much of his salary sent each month to his disabled brother and his brother's three children in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and other family and friends demanding money, Santino can barely afford the apartment he shares with another lost boy in a tough section of Houston.

He does not waste his money on movies or going to clubs, he says. For fun he watches educational programmes on television.

"There's no way out," Santino says, "unless you get education."

Lost boys
The majority of the lost boys did not survive the epic journey
A few of the lost boys, like Samuel Garang, 23, who lives in California, somehow managed to work in the day and attend school at night.

"America wasn't paradise and it wasn't as easy as they told you in the camps," says Samuel, who has done the rounds of menial jobs: he's been a security guard and is now a bagger, someone who puts shoppers' groceries in their bags at supermarkets.

He won't be a bagger much longer. Samuel completed his high school diploma, went on to junior college and did well enough to be accepted at one of America's most prestigious universities, Stanford, in California in September.

"It was easier for me," says Samuel. "I didn't have a wife in the camp or people wanting money. I could study.

Back in Africa they do not know how hard it can be here for us."

A selection of your comments are published below.

A documentary about the Lost Boys is being broadcast on Public Broadcasting Stations in the US from 28 Sept which features Santino.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion received.

I am one of the lost boys but it has not been easy to acheive everything I have today. Since I got here in 2001, I have been working hard both at school and working for menial low-wages to be able to support my life. I arrived here on 1/31/2001 at the age of 21 years old. After four days I started English as a second language class and after three months, I was able to pass my high school equivalant exam.

In September of the same year, I started attending Cornerstone University. I am now a Junior and am studying accounting as my career. I would like to encourage the rest of my colleagues to do the same thing I just did.

It is never easy but you got to make it through the way I just did. If I can do it you can do it too. I know it not simple to do but it's not like a lot of the hardship we have been through in the past.
Aboor Ayii Riak, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA

I am touched by Samuel and Santino's stories. Its amazing the importance these young men see in an education, something most North Americans take for granted. It must give Samuel incredible pride to be attending such a prestigious American university. It's a shame that a man like Santino does not have the opportunity to attend schooling, as he obviously has the drive in him. It's people like this that need to be given as many opportunities as possible. It's people like this that will change things in the world.
Laura, Toronto, Canada

I work with lost boys in the US. This article was a good reflection of some of the struggles they face in regards to education. Also, before refugees come to America they have to understand that it is not paradise. A misconception that is often told in refugee camps. America is a struggle for many Americans and will be even more of a struggle for refugees.
Danielle, US

There are over a dozen lost boys in the Boulder area with more in Denver. In our community the local Rotary clubs have stepped up to make sure these young men are getting the essentials of life so they can study and save money for their families. The men work too, but that extra support gives them a breather so desperately needed to survive in our commercial. If this story moves you like it did my Club, I hope you find it in your hearts to help out these men. Their tragedy is horrible, but we can make their lives today outstanding by helping one boy at a time!
Dee Anderson, Boulder, Colorado, US

I appreciated this article as it will remind readers that, although there has been so much recent attention to the genocide in the Darfur (western region) of Sudan, in actuality that conflict is only of 18 months duration. The lost boys (and girls) are products of the same ruthless governing regime in Sudan but these southerners and their families have been victimized since 1989. They are brave, intelligent and deserve the opportunity to return to their country in safety and peace.
B-F McDonald, Lawrence, Kansas, USA

I have noticed several "lost boys" in our community over the years and recently I have come into contact with one young man who delivers art and framing supplies to my place of work. I asked him where he was from one day and he confirmed that he escaped the Sudan. I further inquired how he liked living in Salt Lake City, his reply: "America is very different from my homeland."
Heidi Stirling, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Omaha has received a large influx of Sudanese refugees in the recent past and they are doing well. They have developed a network of support groups to help each other attend college, to find jobs and residences in the area. Their religious organizations have also helped them to be successful. They are an increasingly important part of the community and have many vocal leaders in the area. Many of those that I know wish to return to Sudan to help their countrymen by receiving training as doctors and professionals, so that when they return they can make their home a more stable one. For many others though, these so called "lost boys" have found a home in a place that gladly accepts their presence and diversity.
Craig Novak, Omaha, Nebraska, United States

I really support the writer of this article. Life is not that easy for the lost boys. I work as a volunteer with IRC here in San Diego and I know what they are going through. Currently I am working with the Somali Bantu and it's all the same. The best thing for all the refugees is to make sure they get a high school diploma and take advantage of their talents like running and soccer because they can easily get scholarships in good schools. God bless them and give them peace in their heart. Erick San Diego, CA, USA
Erick Mwirigi, San Diego

Keep it up boys! Things aren't easier in your former camp. For those who managed to continue with your education work hard, for the future of your people and your country lies within you. Don't let Sudan down. And, for the rest, it's never too late for education - save for it and fulfil your dreams . Back home we keep on praying for you and your country.
Lydia, Nairobi, Kenya

It's a really touching story as I can feel the pain of the lost boys' experience and the hardships they faced in Sudan, adjusting their lifestyle in USA. I have a similar experience but not hard as these guys as I am a Tamil (ethnic group 25% population of Sri Lanka) suffering from ethnic war. I had to move to the UK. I was touched by Samuel Garang who was selected to study at Stanford University as they are brilliant people who have been deprived of their talents due to Civil war. I hope one day there will be peace in Sudan for people to live in harmony.
Gana, London, UK

Sudan's 'lost boys' head for US
09 Nov 00 |  Africa
The 'Lost Girls' of Sudan
07 Jun 02 |  Africa

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