Lost Boys return home to build schools
August 17, 2010 10:33 PM   Subscribe

Valentino Achak Deng was a young Dinka boy in southern Sudan in the 1980s when his village was destroyed by government militia. He became one of the over 25,000 refugee children collectively known as the "Lost Boys of Sudan." Valentino spent nine years living in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya before emigrating to the US in 2001. In 2003, he met American writer Dave Eggers, and the two collaborated on the fictionalized "What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng." The two always intended for the proceeds from the book to support Valentino's hometown of Marial Bai in Sudan. They created the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation as a vehicle for this. In May 2009, the Foundation opened the Marial Bai Secondary School, the only "fully functioning secondary school in the entire region." The school is free and admissions policies favor orphans. However, many families wouldn't let their daughters attend, so Valentino built a girls' dormitory, and now 100 girls are able to live on-campus and focus on school full-time. The school has 260 students total.

Rapper Emmanuel Jal is another former Lost Boy who was also a child soldier in Sudan. He founded the NGO Gua Africa to support rebuilding in war-torn Sudan. Gua is renovating a primary school in Leer and will be expanding the school into the Emma Academy, named for Emma McCune, who rescued Jal and dozens of other Lost Boys, and who is the subject of the book Emma's War.

Former Lost Boy Abraham Deng Ater, a University of Arizona graduate, founded the Deng Ater Foundation and plans to build schools in Sudan as well.

Former Lost Boys Gabriel Bol (now a teacher), Garang Mayuol (nurse), and Koor Garang (student) are the subjects of the film Rebuilding Hope. The proceeds of this film, along with money being raised by Gabriel and the others, will go towards public health and education projects in their home villages. The men have already built clean wells and eliminated cholera in one village.

James Lubo Mijak, another former Lost Boy, is now a college graduate who is raising money to return to his village and to build a primary school.

The Lost Boys were called called "among the most badly war-traumatized children ever examined." And now many are determined to create for the next generation of southern Sudanese children what they never had.
posted by bluedaisy (12 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
It is awesome to see kids who went through such horrific things come back and change the lives of the people they left behind. I think that takes a special kind of strength.
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:58 PM on August 17, 2010

Thanks, bluedaisy. It gladdens my heart to hear of stories like this.

I donated only a tiny amount, but I'll go to sleep tonight thinking of some kids who will have school supplies for a few months yet. And I will (yet again) make a point of teaching my kids that, damn, we were blessed to be born in Australia.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 12:32 AM on August 18, 2010

posted by FidelDonson at 12:52 AM on August 18, 2010

Another group to look into is Rebuild Sudan, founded by another Lost Boy, Michael Kuany. Rebuild Sudan's current project is to build a school in Jalle in Southern Sudan, with construction slated to start in November. There's a place to donate, if you're interested. There are interesting challenges to building a sustainable school in Jalle, and Rebuild Sudan has been interestingly up-front about describing these.

(Michael is a friend of mine, but the only connection I have to Rebuild Sudan is as a donor.)
posted by willF at 1:19 AM on August 18, 2010

Awesome post. Thanks.
posted by misozaki at 2:30 AM on August 18, 2010

This is so good to see. Can we call Valentino Achak Deng a hero?
posted by dabitch at 3:38 AM on August 18, 2010

"What is the What" is one of the most compelling books I've ever read. Highly recommend it. It's completely different from Dave Eggers' other books (excluding the also awesome and similar "Zeitoun" about a family affected by Katrina).
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 8:07 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is a wonderful post.
posted by HumanComplex at 9:59 AM on August 18, 2010

"What is the What" is one of the most compelling books I've ever read.

posted by rollbiz at 11:15 AM on August 18, 2010

Thirding What is the What. Fantastic post, I look forward to reading all of this.
posted by naoko at 11:46 AM on August 18, 2010

Hey, I woke up this morning to find a lovely 'thank you' email from Greg Larson, Associate Director of the Foundation.

"Your gift will directly support our new high school in Marial Bai, Southern Sudan. Classes just started for our second academic year at the school, with more than two hundred new students enrolled."

Insert huge happy grin here. Thanks again, bluedaisy.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:13 PM on August 18, 2010

Thanks, willF, I would definitely have included your friend's foundation if I had known about it.

Thanks to all the rest of you for your comments (and donations)! I have been fascinated with the stories of the Lost Boys for a few years now, and I'm glad to know others are also interested.

I also have to agree that What Is the What is one of the most compelling books I've ever read--and I read it after I was already familiar with the general Sudanese child refugee narrative.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:49 PM on August 18, 2010

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