*Michael Ayuen de Kuany, one of the "Lost Boys of the Sudan," will be a speaker at the 2011 Lake Junaluska Peace Conference. For more information and to register, visit www.lakejunaluska.com/peace.
By Wayne Lavendar
The “Lost Boys of the Sudan” refers to a group of 20,000 boys who fled their homes and traveled together during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983 – 2005). During this time an estimated 2.5 million persons were killed and millions more made homeless in the Sudan.
The “Lost Boys” managed to escape from the soldiers in many cases because they were out of the villages tending crops or cattle when the soldiers arrived: in other cases they simply hid and fled at night. Most of the boys are orphans although a small minority has discovered that one or (in extreme cases) both parents survived.
The group traveled together over 2,000 miles seeking safety and refuge – moving through the Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. Over 50 percent of the boys died during the trip from causes ranging from starvation and dehydration to disease, attacks from wild animals and pursuing military.
In 2001 an agreement reached between the United States and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) led to the settlement of 3,800 of the boys into the US. Experts say that these young men, as a group, are the most badly war-traumatized children ever examined.
Michael Ayuen de Kuany is one of the “Lost Boys.” Born in 1980 in what was then southern Sudan, he fled his village during at attack by the government forces in 1987. Here is some of his experience:
WL: Michael – tell me your story – where did it begin?
MAdK: I am from what is today known as the Republic of the Southern Sudan. I am from the Dinka tribe – cattle keepers people, and Christian. I was born in a Christian family – one of nine children – 6 boys and 3 girls. Only two of my brothers and 1 sister have survived the war.
The conflict between the people of the southern sections of Sudan and the predominantly Muslim – Arab people of the northern sections of the Sudan has existed for many years, even before the official civil war. My people were Christians and we had many differences between us and the people from the north – differences in religion, culture and politics.
In the 1970’s and early 1980’s the bloodshed began – the Muslims from the North came and told us that we had to either convert to Islam or be killed. They came first for our leaders thinking that if they could get the leaders to convert the people would follow. But our leaders did not and were then killed. My people did not give up and the killing continued. In 1983 a separatist party was formed and the Civil War for separation officially began. The killing did not stop.
In 1987 the government came into our region with large numbers of troops and large numbers of big weapons. They came to my village.
My village was Jalle – I was away from the village with the other boys – we heard the troops and saw the fires. We had been told that if the government forces ever came to our village we should run and not be captured. We were told that if we were captured they would cut us to pieces. I decided to run.
I had two directions to run – one towards the river Nile and one to the direction that led towards Ethiopia. The river was infested with crocodiles and not a real option. It was about 5 PM and we ran towards the forest where I was also joined by other children from the nearby villages. The soldiers were not far behind us and were shooting at us.
My brother was with me but we got separated – I don’t know how. He survived too and ended up in a different refugee camp. We were finally reunited in 2005.
We walked over 1000 miles from southern Sudan to Ethiopia, and then another 1000 miles to Northern Kenya where we found a refugee camp run by the United Nations. During our long walk many of my friends died – from attacks by wild animals, from hunger and disease. We were also chased sometimes by government troops that shot and killed some of us. We drank our own urine for water and ate leaves from the trees to survive.
WL: How did you survive?
MAdK: I think it was a combination of God’s protection and luck. There was no one protecting me and I was too young to really protect myself. I just kept walking when we walked and made it out.
We arrived in the refugee camp and stayed there for 10 years. Life in the camp was very difficult – we had one meal per day. The UN provided us with books for our education. We studied hard. When President Bill Clinton sent representatives to the camps to hear the story of the “Lost Boys” we told them that since we had lost our parents education was our mother and father. We studied as hard as we could.
I came to the United States in 2001. I first was sponsored by an organization in Atlanta but they told me it would be two years before I could continue my education. I met a man from Wisconsin who said that if I wanted to go to school sooner he would take me to his state. I agreed. I studied and passed the GED exams and enrolled in the University of Wisconsin in 2003 and graduated in 2006. I majored in International Studies and Political Science.
After I graduated I worked in San Francisco for a year helping released inmates find the social services they needed to re-enter society, and then was accepted to the Master’s program at Eastern Mennonite University Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. I finished in 2009 with a degree in International Development and Restorative Justice.
WL: Tell me about your non-profit organization.
MAdK: I founded “Rebuild Sudan” in 2005. I know that there are many more children who have no resources – many who are orphans. I knew what these children are going through. I felt that education was the way forward – the key to having choices. I thought that building a school would be a great start to help transform children’s lives and give my nation hope.
For many years I was a full-time student and also worked so Rebuild Sudan grew slowly. In 2009 I traveled home and selected a site for the new school. We have begun the work on the school that will have 8 classrooms, offices, storage, a library, computer lab and a lecture hall that will seat 320 people that will also be used as a meeting place for the community. We cannot build there now because it is the rainy season but we will begin again in October. We need $73,000 to complete the school.
We also need funds to build a peace camp. Now that we are an independent nation I see conflict between the different tribes and factions. We also have corruption in our government. I see a place where we can train people from the different villages in restorative justice and conflict resolution. This way we will be able to build a society based on peace and justice.
It is my hope to build more schools as well once we have completed this one.
WL: What are your personal plans?
MAdK: I was just hired to be the representative of the Lost Boys at the new embassy for my nation in Washington, D.C. I am hoping to begin soon but it is taking long to get everything in place. I also intend to pursue a Ph.D. in public policy. Our new leaders do not have any experience or education in making policy – I would like to be trained so that one day I can help the government make policy decisions that will be the best for my new nation.
WL: Are you in touch with the other Lost Boys?
MAdK: Oh yes, we stay in touch with each other all of the time. We help each other and work together. Many of them want to help our new nation as well and have plans to return or to help from here. They have a big heart for their nation but are not sure sometimes how to help. Most of us already have college degrees, many have masters and some are already in doctoral programs.
WL: Anything else you would like to share?
MAdK: I am really looking forward to the conference. I know that we must learn to live together in peace – and that if we cannot learn that more children will be killed or suffer as we did.
Wayne Lavender is a United Methodist pastor and executive director of the Foundation 4 Orphans.