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Lost And Found

Oct
22
2007

Simon Deng is one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, yet the Hampton University pharmacy student is resolute about returning home to Africa in order to save lives.

The 23-year-old simply just wants to return a favor many times over.

“When I was 5,” Deng told me, “my grandfather was a farmer and my dad was an accountant in Juba. When the war broke out in the city, my parents took me to my grandfather’s village.

“I was fascinated with the goat and sheep. I chased after them one day and ran right into a cobra. It bit me and I stopped breathing. I was rushed to a doctor and given anti-venom.

“I woke up with all of my family around me. They were weeping. They thought I would die. I want to help people the way I was helped.”

Last March, Deng, 23, became an American citizen. Why? He is determined to return to war-torn Sudan and, ironically, U.S. citizenship will give him easier travel access when he anticipates the need to come back here to update his medical training. That’s commitment.

About 30,000 “Lost Boys” of the Dinka tribe in the southern part of Sudan were driven from their homes by the Muslim-led Sudanese government from the north, and their surrogates, according to Julie Hill, who runs the Lost Boys of Sudan refugee program here in Hampton Roads. The boys hid in the Sahara desert and bush and fought off wild animals. Many were killed, including about 11,000 who drowned in the Nile. About 10,000 “Lost Boys” — and “Lost Girls” – survived. Of that number, some 4,000 of those refugees were admitted to the United States before the 9/11 years.

Deng was one of those refugees embraced by America. He told me that he was picked out of a Kenyan refugee camp where he lived for years: “It was miserable. We got a cup of cornmeal and a cup of cooking oil and we had to live off that for 15 days. There was one book for every 10 students.”

Then Deng, age 17 at the time, was asked if he wanted to try and settle in America, work and go to school. After passing a physical exam, plus orientation classes on America, Deng was sponsored for three months by a Norfolk, Va. church. He was given documents, a Social Security card, and a bicycle.

After 90 days of church care, he was on his own. He supported himself by working multiple jobs and is paying most of his Hampton University tuition out of his earnings. Although he has some financial assistance from the school, Deng and his peers often work so many hours they render themselves ineligible for federal financial needed to cover their college costs – even though most of the money they make doesn’t go into their pockets but rather, it’s sent back to Africa. Deng and dozens of fellow “Lost Boys” in the Hampton Roads area send about 60 percent of their income home to support family members, especially children getting educated in boarding schools.

Hill and other volunteers have been soliciting families to help the “Lost Boys” reduce their work hours so they can focus on college. How? They’re rounding up sponsors for the Sudanese children still in Africa going to boarding schools. The less money the “Lost Boys” have to send overseas, the fewer hours they need to work and the more hours they can invest in their own schooling and education. In this region, 80 schoolchildren were sponsored by 60 church family sponsors as of mid-September, said Julie Hill. She added that 66 children were sponsored before she made a pitch to my Unitarian Universalist fellowship. Quickly, eight sponsors stepped to the plate, and additional sponsors came from other churches.

The work ethic and resolve of the “Lost Boys” is inspiring and their determination is a sharp contrast to the international inaction that’s greeted news from their native land. The slowness of Western nations to intervene in the refugee crisis, the limited action taken by the United Nations and the continuing violence in the region present a number of challenges for the region and for international diplomats. It’s a situation not likely to resolve itself any time soon. In recent months, Beijing has been accused of enabling the slaughter of the Dinkas in Darfur, southern Sudan, because the tribe’s lands sit atop substantial oil reserves. Lately, the Chinese government has been hearing the complaints of human rights watchers like Hill and they have engaged in some image fixing to ease some of the pressure.

For now, I’ll respect Simon Deng’s wishes to spread his message.

“Our aim,” he said of himself and other “Lost Boys” in America, “is to do our best and go back to Africa to rebuild our country.”

Share  Posted by Wayne Dawkins at 6:02 AM | Permalink

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