The Lost Boys of Sudan work with students to give back to their homeland

By Miriam Alghothani ’15

As helicopter gunfire and invading soldiers tore his village apart, six-year-old Bol Aweng, along with nearly 36,000 other boys, struggled to find shelter. Between the ages of six and 14, the escaping boys met in the desert to find safety together.

Starvation, wild animal attacks and nearby gunfire killed more than half of the Lost Boys during their seven week journey to a makeshift refugee camp in Ethiopia.

Jok Dau (second row, first from left) and Steve Walker (second row, second from left) are pictured with the leaders of Piol, South Sudan. The men are wearing Buckeye apparel that Walker and Aweng brought back to them.

After four years, the boys were driven away again. This time it was Ethiopian soldiers that forced the boys to cross the Gilo River. Filled with crocodiles, the river took many lives.

“Many of my friends who did not know how to swim drowned and others were eaten by crocodiles,” Aweng said. “The rest were shot or taken hostage and we never saw each other again.”

The remaining boys walked for three days straight, this time ending up in a Kenyan refugee camp. Although the boys were not always well-fed, they appreciated what the camp offered them.

School was taught under the shade of a tree, where the boys learned to read and speak English. Supplies were unavailable, so often lessons were written in the dirt. Attending school was a way to forget the terrifying events the boys endured.

“There were 80 kids in each class and we used our fingers to write in the dirt,” Aweng explained. “It was a way to forget about our journey.”

Nearly 4,000 Lost Boys were given a second chance at life by moving to America or some European countries. Aweng and his cousin, Jok Dau, first settled in Nashville, TN where they learned that life in America was very different than life in Africa.

“I had so many things to learn; the electricity, food and cold weather were all new to me,” Aweng said.

After five years in Nashville, both men moved to Columbus, Ohio to attend OSU, beginning in 2006.

“Coming to a big institution, like OSU, was an awesome chance,” Aweng said.

Aweng received a diploma in fine arts while Dau received his diploma in international relations. Aweng is now married to a Lost Girl of Sudan who he met in a refugee camp. Ajiel Atem Wal lives with Aweng in Columbus with their three-year-old daughter, Nyankiir.

The Buckeye Clinic

The men now look beyond their current lives to give back to their homeland. Closely working with Steve Walker, a mission team leader, the men have raised money to build a health clinic in Piol, South Sudan. Named after the OSU Buckeyes, the Buckeye Clinic is a primary health care unit that provides basic healthcare to the people of Piol.

“It is mostly a first aid station where people can come for assistance for minor illnesses and injuries,” Walker said.

Before the opening of the clinic, the only medical care in Piol was a man of third grade education handing out medicine under a tree. Any illness was treated with a Malaria vaccine.

Now the clinic offers vaccinations for children, a major necessity among the younger generation of Piol.

“In South Sudan one out of every five children do not live to age five… these are some of the highest rates in the world,” Walker said. “For two-and-a-half years our efforts have supported [vaccinations for] 450 newborn babies.”

A remote area in South Sudan, Piol offers an easy-accessible health clinic that prevents people from travelling to the state capitol to seek medical help.

“Without the clinic people would have to walk for a full day to the nearest health center,” Walker said.

Not only does the clinic offer medical help but the building also instills a feeling of hope among the people of South Sudan.

“It lets the people know that someone in another part of the world cares for them,” Walker said. “They have never felt this before.”

Although the clinic is currently operating there are still some necessities. The clinic lacks a nurse midwife and a laboratory technician.

Two community health workers, each with nine months of medical training operate the clinic daily along with a birthing aid, who has no formal medical training. An international non-governmental organization hires the staff while the Republic of South Sudan Ministry of Health oversees the clinic.

UAHS Involvement

In four years, UAHS students have raised over $45,000 for the Buckeye Clinic, entirely funding the construction of the maternity ward.

History teacher Mark Boesch is the leader of the Sudan service learning project. The money raised in 2009, the first year of the project, was used to purchase a solar energy system, which powers a vaccine-storage refrigerator.

“The solar energy system is the first electric light of the village,” Walker said. “This is the only electricity in a 30-mile radius, which is a sign of hope.”

Continuing to raise money through various fundraisers such as dodgeball tournaments and chili-cook offs, freshmen house D, with the help of Club Sudan, was able to fund the construction of a maternity ward in the Buckeye Clinic. A sign on the door reads ‘Maternity Ward Sponsored by Upper Arlington House D Students and Teachers.’

The goal of Club Sudan this year is to raise awareness to ensure the clinic has basic medical equipment.

“We want to continue to help supplying the clinic and we can do this by raising awareness of the cause,” Boesch said.

Walker agrees that raising awareness is essential to the growth of the clinic.

“Students at UA can help by learning more about the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan and the current situation in South Sudan,” Walker explained. “[Through] sharing what they have learned with other people… UA students can continue to raise money for the Buckeye Clinic.”