Lost Boys of Sudan

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The Lost Boys of Sudan were over 40,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1987–2005); about 2 million were killed and millions were displaced.[1] The name "Lost Boys of Sudan" was colloquially used by aid workers in the refugee camps where the boys resided in Africa. The term was revived, as children fled the post-independence violence of South Sudan with Sudan during 2011–13.[2][3]

(2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report) -School children in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya 1, where many of the Lost Boys had stayed
(2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report) -School children in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya 1, where many of the Lost Boys and Girls temporarily or permanently resettled


Roots of the Conflict

The Sudanese conflict, which incited the journey of the Lost Boys, stemmed from divisions among the Northerners and Southerners. Following Sudan's independence from Britain in 1956, these divisions became contentious. The northern region of the country was primarily Muslim, which contrasted ideologically with the Christian and animist religions that were more prevalent in the south.[4] Religion played a crucial role in this conflict because British Christian missionaries were welcomed in the South, yet the North wanted a homogenous nation of Muslims. [5] In the Northerner's minds, the South was a legitimate place of conversation because the Christina religion promotes secularization. For each side, religion constituted identity, making the conflict extremely personal for all involved. Further, the Northern population was primarily Arabic-speakers, while the South comprised an English speaking population. The new Sudanese government was dominated by Northerns who sought to Arabize the South, which had previously associated more with their African ethnicity rather than Arab. Additionally, the conflict boasted economic elements. Although the north had more of the urban centers of the nation, they depended heavily on the natural resources such as oil and minerals that were found in the southern region. The interests of northern business in extracting these resources contrasted the interests of southern farmers to protect and own their own land for agriculture [4] In all, these competing identities and interests created an organized civil war lasting over two decades.

Effects on children

During the Sudanese Civil War, children were unable to adequately support themselves and suffered greatly from the terror. Many children were orphaned or separated from their families because of the systematic attacks in the southern part of the country. Some children were able to avoid capture or death because they were away from their villages tending cattle at the cattle camps (grazing land located near bodies of water where cattle were taken and tended largely by the village children during the dry season) and were able to flee and hide in the dense African bush. Some of the unaccompanied male minors were conscripted by the Southern rebel forces and used as soldiers in the rebel army, while others were handed over to the government by their own families to ensure protection, for food, and under a false impression the child would be attending school.[6] Children were highly marginalized during this period. Resultantly, they began to conglomerate and organize themselves in an effort to flee the country and the war.

Flight of the Lost Boys

Motivated by the loss of their parents and their need to find food and safety from the conflict, an estimated 20,000 boys and girls from rural southern Sudan fled to bordering Ethiopia and Kenya.[7] Much of the travel took place by foot in large groups with the boys traveling in single file lines.[8] The journey from South Sudan to the nearest refugee camp could be up to thousands of miles. Travel ranged from a span of weeks to two or more years. Often, the children traveled with no possessions besides the clothes on their backs.[9] The Boys often depended on the charity of villages they passed for food, necessities, and treatment of the sick. However, most of their travel was in isolated regions with very little infrastructure. Groups of Boys were often organized and led by the oldest boy in the group, who could be a young adult or sometimes as young as ten or twelve years old.

The Lost Boys on this migration were on average extremely malnourished, as food was sourced through donations from villages encountered along the way, hunting, and theft.[7] They were also vulnerable to heat exhaustion, pneumonia, malaria, and other diseases for which they had little means of prevention or treatment.[7] Additionally, attacks by lions, snakes and other wild animals were not uncommon. It is estimated that over half of the young migrants died along their journey due to starvation, dehydration, disease, attacks by wild animals and enemy soldiers.[10] Conditions were made even more dangerous by the SPLA soldiers, who would attack the boys or forcibly recruit them as child soldiers. The SPLA estimated that 1,200 boys were recruited from groups of displaced children, although they deny forcing any of them into conflict.[9] Experts say the Lost Boys are the most badly war-traumatized children ever examined.[1][7]

The journey of the Lost Boys was filled with suffering and unknowns as the boys rarely knew the direction they were headed.[11]

Arrival at refugee camps

Initially, most of the fleeing boys went to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, until a war in 1991 sent the boys fleeing again to a different refugee camp called Kakuma, which s located in Kenya.[12] The arrival of the Lost Boys to the refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya were welcomed to various degrees. It was difficult for the camps to provide sufficient food for the hundreds of boys arriving daily. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees and involved non-governmental organizations were often constrained to meet the needs of the population. An unique problem for the story of the Lost Boys is how the age and family structure dynamics of the camps changed with the influx of young people.[7] The Lost Boys came to the camps without guardians or adult supervision. They immediately required housing and schooling, which changed the allocation of resources in the camps. With some of the boys arriving in the camps at ages as young as 6 or 7, many of the Boys spent the majority of their childhood and adolescence being raised in the camps.[7] Ultimately, being raised in a refugee camp significantly altered their development and ability to assimilate into regular life.

Current status and resettlement

From 1992 to 1996, UNICEF had reunited almost 1200 Lost Boys with their families. However, about 17,000 were still in camps in the area as of 1996.[13]

In 2001, as part of a program established by the United States Government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), approximately 3800 Lost Boys were allowed to resettle in the United States.[10] They are now scattered over at least 38 cities.[1] Halted after 9/11 for security reasons, the program restarted in 2004. As of 2006, the largest population of Sudanese refugees in the United States is in Omaha, Nebraska, which hosts about 7,000 people.[14] Numerous resettlement agencies, such as Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, the IRC (International Rescue Committee), World Relief and others assisted in the resettlement process. A variety of programs have been initiated to help these displaced people, in areas of education, medical assistance, reconnecting with families in South Sudan and in rebuilding efforts and providing humanitarian aid in Southern Sudan.[10]

Despite the programs intended to facilitate assimilation, many of the Lost Boys still face difficulties in adapting to life in The United States, Canada, or any of the European countries that offered refugee resettlement.[15] Posttraumatic stress, separation from loved ones, cultural isolation, and racism and discrimination against the refugees made assimilation extremely difficult.[16] Studies have discussed a common condition among the Lost Boys of ambiguous loss, which occurs when a person experiences the loss of a family member if they are missing or have been separated, but without the closure of death which allows for mourning and then moving forward.[16] Resettlement to the US made it easier for many of the Lost Boys to reconnect with family members, although it was often difficult to reunite if the Boys were already in the US and the families remained in camps. South Sudan allows free access to Lost Boys/Girls and Sudanese Diaspora from around the world to return to their homeland. As a result, many are now returning to South Sudan to pay it forward and help in the rebuilding of their war-torn country and to provide humanitarian aid and support. In January 2011, 99.47% of South Sudanese voted to separate from the north and become an independent nation. Some American former Lost Boys and Girls now hold positions in the current Government of South Sudan.[17]

The Lost Girls

Inequalities between the Lost Boys and Lost Girls was manifested partially in cultural practices of the Dinka and Nuer people. Not unlike many parts of Africa, women were viewed as subordinate to men in families and villages. Male children inherited their parent's wealth after their death, and so parents strongly desired to have male children, often at the expense of the care of the females. Men were allowed to have multiple wives, and polygamy was expected if the father had no sons by his other wives.[18]

When conflict reached the rural parts of southern Sudan, it affected girls, too. When villages were attacked, girls were raped, and women and small children (boys and girls) were taken to the north to be sold as slaves.[19] When the women and children were trafficked, it was extremely difficult for family members to relocate them.

When arriving in the camps in Ethiopia, the boys were placed in boys-only areas of the camp, but according to Sudanese culture, the girls could not be left alone, so they were placed with surviving family members or adopted by other Sudanese families.[10] Although these family placement practices provided security for the young women, families often exploited the extra pair of hands at home, and the Girls were expected to fulfill numerous domestic responsibilities that were often very tasking or even dangerous.[18] The expectations of domestic work often prevented the Girls and young women from attending school while in the camps, and even when allowed to attend, their housework often kept them behind their male classmates, who had time to study. Girls were abused by their host families, raped by other refugees during activities such as fetching water or food rations, and occasionally, even sold as brides for profit.[18]

When the resettlement program in the US was initiated in 1999, one of the requirements was that the children must be orphans. Because these girls had been living in these family units for up to 9–14 years, they were no longer considered orphans, and therefore were not eligible for the resettlement program. As a result, relatively few of the Lost Girls were deemed eligible for the resettlement program to the US.[10] Of the 4,000 Sudanese refugees approved in 2000 to resettle in the US, only 89 were women.[18] The Lost Boys are generally more focused on in literature.

Books, films and plays

There have been a number of books, films and plays about the Lost Boys, including:

See also


  1. ^ a b c Lost Boys of Sudan, official IRC website.
  2. ^ Gettleman, Jeffrey (30 June 2012). "New Wave of 'Lost Boys' Flee Sudan's Lingering War". NYTimes.com. Retrieved 1 July 2012. 
  3. ^ Simon Tisdall (5 July 2013). "Fears of a new Darfur as refugees are caught in violence on Sudan's border". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 6 July 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Verney, Peter (1995). "Sudan: Conflict and minorities". London: Minority Rights Group. 
  5. ^ Deng, Francis. Sudan - Civil War and Genocide. Middle East Forum https://www.meforum.org/articles/other/sudan-civil-war-and-genocide. Retrieved June 18, 2018.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ See for example War Child: A Child Soldier's Story by Emmanuel Jal
  7. ^ a b c d e f Biel, Melha Rout (2003). "The Civil War in southern Sudan and its effect on youth and children". Social Work & Society. 1 (1): 119–127. 
  8. ^ Eggers, Dace (November 13, 2007). What is the What. Vintage. ISBN 9780307385901.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help);
  9. ^ a b Walgren, Judy (1994). "The Lost Boys of Southern Sudan". Africa Report. 39.3 (40). 
  10. ^ a b c d e Joan Hecht. The Journey of the Lost Boys
  11. ^ "The lost boys of Sudan". Children in War. Children in War. Retrieved June 19, 2019.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  12. ^ "Lost Boys of Sudan". International Rescue Committee. International Rescue Committee. Retrieved June 19, 2019.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  13. ^ "The lost boys of the Sudan". unicef.org. Retrieved 14 December 2016. 
  14. ^ Burbach, C. "Rally features Sudanese vice president." Omaha World-Herald. July 22, 2006.
  15. ^ Meade, Fionn (2002). The Lost Boys of Sudan. pp. 358–362. 
  16. ^ a b Luster, Tom et. al. "The Lost Boys of Sudan: Ambiguous Loss, Search For Family, and Reestablishing Relationships with Family Members". Family Relations. 57 (4): 444–456. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2008.00513.x. 
  17. ^ "Alliance for the Lost Boys of Sudan - Alliance for the Lost Boys of Sudan". allianceforthelostboys.com. Retrieved 14 December 2016. 
  18. ^ a b c d El Jack, Amani (2012). "Education is My Mother and Father: The "Invisible" Women of Sudan". Refuge: Canada's Journal on Refugees. 27.2. 
  19. ^ Harriss, Anne (2010). "I Ain't No Girl: Representation and Reconstruction of the" Found Girls" of Sudan". Race/ethnicity: multidisciplinary global contexts. 4 (1): 41–63. doi:10.2979/racethmulglocon.2010.4.1.41. 
  20. ^ Awak Kondok Malith (2016). Walking Boys: The Perilous Road to South Sudan Independence. iUniverse. ISBN 9781532006524. 
  21. ^ "HOW FAST CAN YOU RUN by Harriet Levin Millan - Kirkus Reviews". kirkusreviews.com. Retrieved 14 December 2016. 
  22. ^ "Gardening soothes Dallas man's childhood of fear and deprivation - Gardening - Dallas News". dallasnews.com. 13 November 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2016. 
  23. ^ "Running for my Life". lopezlomong.com. Retrieved 14 December 2016. 
  24. ^ A Hare in the Elephant's Trunk, a novel based on the life of Jacob Deng Archived 2011-01-15 at the Wayback Machine.. ISBN 978-0-88995-451-9
  25. ^ "Rebuilding Hope, a documentary by Jen Marlowe". rebuildinghopesudan.org. Archived from the original on 5 November 2015. Retrieved 14 December 2016. 
  26. ^ Aher Arop Bol, The Lost Boy: The true story of a young boy's flight from Sudan to South Africa, Kwela Books. ISBN 978-0-7957-0278-5
  27. ^ War Child official film website
  28. ^ "Arkansas author to visit Saline County Library". The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. January 8, 2009. Retrieved July 21, 2013. 
  29. ^ "Lonnie Carter website". Lonnie Carter. Retrieved September 9, 2012.  Full text of play available online.
  30. ^ Quinton Skinner (April 2, 2007). "The Lost Boys of Sudan". Variety. Retrieved September 9, 2012. 
  31. ^ Zac Thompson (April 10, 2010). "The Second Act Is American Life". Chicago Reader. Retrieved September 9, 2012. . Further reviews at Review Round-Up, theatreinchicago.com, retrieved September 11, 2012.
  32. ^ John Bul Dau and Michael Sweeney, God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir. ISBN 978-1-4262-0114-1
  33. ^ Felicia R. McMahon, Not Just Child's Play: Emerging Tradition and the Lost Boys of Sudan. ISBN 978-1-57806-987-3
  34. ^ God Grew Tired of Us official film website.
  35. ^ They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky, official book site.
  36. ^ "UGA Press View Book". ugapress.org. Retrieved 14 December 2016. 
  37. ^ Joan Hecht, The Journey of the Lost Boys. ISBN 0-9763875-0-6
  38. ^ Dinka Diaries at IMDB
  39. ^ Alliance For The Lost Boys, official web site.
  40. ^ I Heart Huckabees at IMDB
  41. ^ Abraham Nhial and DiAnn Mills. Lost Boy No More. ISBN 0-8054-3186-1
  42. ^ Benjamin and His Brother.
  43. ^ Yang, Daniel Cheng (August 2002). Kakuma - Turkana: Dueling Struggles: Africa's Forgotten Peoples. Pangaea. ISBN 978-1929165506. 

External links


  • Sudan Development Foundation - SUDEF is a non-profit working in South Sudan in partnership with rural villages to improve their quality of life. Founded in 2007 in Burlington, VT by Lost Boys Abraham Awolich and Peter Keny, their community based approach recognizes the resilience, the shared responsibility and the ongoing commitment necessary to establish self-reliant, healthy communities that build lasting peace.
  • The Hope of Sudan is a united alliance of all proven Sudanese-led nonprofit organizations in the United States that share a common mission — to provide the foundation for stable communities and empower our Sudanese brothers and sisters to transform their villages socially and economically.
  • Wadeng Wings of Hope A Canadian-Revenue-Agency approved charity founded by Jacob Deng, featured in the book, A Hare in the Elephant's Trunk. Its mission is to construct schoolrooms to improve education for all children in South Sudan.
  • The Sudanese Education Fund, a 501(c)3 nonprofit serving the South Sudanese refugee population in Massachusetts
  • HELPSudan International, founded by Lost Boys living in Chicago who are determined to better communities in southern Sudan by establishing schools and providing health resources and clean water
  • Sudan Aid, a foundation founded by former Lost Boy Awak Malith and dedicated to transforming education across South Sudan.
  • John Dau Foundation, (also John Dau Sudan Foundation), a Foundation founded by Lost Boy John Dau and dedicated to transforming healthcare in Southern Sudan
  • The Valentino Achak Deng Foundation
  • Alliance For The Lost Boys
  • Sudanese Lost Boys Association of Australia
  • Ayual Community Development Association
  • Gabriel's Dream A charity dedicated to securing education and dental care for the lost boys.
  • Pongborong Primary School - In 2004, Peter Magai Bul and the ACDA established Pongborong Primary School, which served 300 students. With the support of ACDA, the school has grown to serve approximately 800 students in grades one through seven.
  • South Sudan Village Care Foundation - South Sudan Village Care Foundation is a not for profit organization formed in Rochester, NY, founded by Palath Thonchar, one of the Lost Boys & Girls of South Sudan. Their mission is to build and maintain a medical clinic in Palath's home village of Panrieng.
  • Hope for Ariang, Lost Boy Gabriel Bol Deng's project to build a primary school in the Bhar El Ghazal region
  • Water for Sudan, founded by Lost Boy Salva Dut to provide clean water to Southern Sudan
  • Southern Sudan Health Care Organization, founded by Lost Boys Jacob Atem and Lual Awan, to build a clinic in Southern Sudan
  • 4 South Sudan, founded by US Olympian and Lost Boy Lopez Lomong to meet the needs of the South Sudanese people by improving access to clean water, healthcare, education, and nutrition

Photographs and articles

  • Photojournalist's Account - Images of Sudan's displaced
  • Between Two Worlds: A Personal Journey, Photographs by Eli Reed of the Lost Boys of Sudan
  • Sudanese Stories, An oral history project recording the migration journeys and settlement experiences of southern Sudanese refugees now living in Blacktown, Western Sydney, Australia
  • "Lost Boys find their way in Rochester", story on Lost Boys relocating to the US
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