Sept 1-7. 2005
VOL 124 NO. 29
‘… but now am found’
By Friar Phil Kelly, OFM Conv./ SUN contributing writer
Four ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’ receive scholarships to Le Moyne College
“We were running through the jungle away from the soldiers, but we got lost and just fell down for the night. When it got dark the jackals and tigers came around where we were lying, and started eating on us. Those who could stand up ran away, but some were so weak that they got eaten. That happened every night.” Mochar Agoot fiddles with the pen and pencil set he has just received from Dr. Barron Boyd as a symbol of the full scholarship he and three other Lost Boys had just been granted at an Aug. 18 ceremony at Le Moyne College. A quick look at his face shows that the jungle scene is never far removed from his consciousness.
In his opening remarks Dr. Boyd challenged the men to work hard and accomplish the high academic standard within their grasp and abilities. He emphasized that they need Le Moyne as the next step in their careers, but he pointed out forcibly that Le Moyne needs their stories, even more, in fact, than they need Le Moyne. “Tell your stories, over and over. We can forget them if you do not tell us about how you arrived in America.”
Their stories of courage, drive and determination were right in the room. Although four men received scholarships, one of them, Lino Ariloka, had to work extra hours at his job and could not get time off to come to the ceremony. That is the economic reality in which these men live.
Bishop Thomas Costello began the ceremony by blessing the assembly. Father Charles Beirne, SJ, president of Le Moyne, described the event as exemplifying the commitment of the school to international awareness and social justice. Dr. Jim Wiggins of the InterReligious Council of CNY mentioned that the day was an example of profiles of courage on the part of the Lost Boys and an example of a profile of commitment by Le Moyne, while Dan Young hoped that this example would show others that “Anyone has the ability to achieve their goals with hard work and determination.”
But a few minutes of privacy with the young men demonstrates the potential for story-telling. These slender, soft-spoken young men are of the cohort of some 100 Lost Boys of Syracuse, just a few of the estimated 50,000 male children who fled the atrocities of Southern Sudan beginning some 20 years ago. They faced an incredible dilemma: Join the Sudanese Army as Muslim boy soldiers or be killed. At seven or eight years of age, these men chose to flee, in small groups, or sometimes alone, into the jungle, headed in the general direction of Ethiopia. They learned survival in a stark manner. “We had nothing to eat, and if one of us ate a root or a leaf and died, we learned not to eat them again.” This is the common survival tale told by numerous men. Each man has his own particular account of survival.
Mochar continues his tale of the desperate flight through the jungle. “Jacob, who is standing right beside me here, and I spent many nights in the jungle, sleeping beside each other. We were about eight years old, and we were running because if we did not escape we would have been forced into becoming Muslim. You can go longer without food than water. I drank my urine. Everyone knows that you can become very sick from drinking your own urine, but we did not get sick. But the problem is that if you do not have anything to drink you stop producing urine, and you have nothing to drink. It was not like here on the Le Moyne campus [he paused for a second to look out at the green grass being sprinkled as he spoke] where everything is green. There it was just scrub trees and sand. We would all pray for just a bit of water. Sometimes we would find really dirty water and drink it and not get sick. I think that was the greatest blessing we received from God. We drank our own urine; we drank dirty water and did not die from it. That is a blessing from God.”
What does Jacob Majok remember? “The hunger and thirst of running to Ethiopia. I remember the first time I drank urine, the taste. But we had no choice; we had to keep running. Then we made it to Ethiopia. We were thousands of young boys in a refugee camp. There was a civil war broke out and the camp became part of Eritrea. The Eritrean army attacked us and we had to flee back to Sudan. I remember the terror of crossing the Gilo River with the soldiers shooting at us. The river crossing is very dangerous, some of the young boys could not swim and they drowned, and crocodiles infested the river.” His story is all too familiar. They ran for miles from the Eritrean and Sudanese army and lost more and more of their companions until they finally found refugee in Kenya and came to the U.S. years later.
Marino Mauro remembers being really frightened of being killed by the bombardment, which went on and on. He, like so many of these men, was separated from his family, and he is still searching for them.
And what do they hope to study at Le Moyne? Jacob and Marino are biology majors and hope to apply to medical school. Machar hopes for a double major, registered nursing and psychology. “There are so many of my brothers here in Syracuse who have severe psychological problems and there is no one to really hear and understand them. They are afraid to come out of their rooms,” Machar said.