A Sponsor's Story
“Be careful when you touch this,” the YMCA volunteer said pointing at the stove. “When it’s turned on, it gets very hot.” Though it was a conversation that you might have with a two-year-old, it was being explained to two adults. Santino and Peter were the young men profiled in a PBS special called “The Lost Boys of Sudan". My sister, who was watching it, called me to share their amazing tale.
It was a few weeks later that around 20 members of the Young Adults Division of the Sandler Family Jewish Community Center gathered in the large conference room around the Board table. We were there to hear the same tragic story from William and Simon, two other Lost Boys of Sudan.
Many Jewish organizations are involved in the plight to make Darfur a safe, livable area, free from genocide. The connection to this cause is obvious; Jewish people, too, have been the victims of a genocidal government. But we learned that there was genocide in Sudan long before the Darfur situation became so dire. A civil war had reigned for twenty years in Southern Sudan, with an estimated 2 million people killed.
In 1988, many young boys in Southern Sudan were in the field, as usual, tending to cattle, farm animals, and farmland. Their villages were attacked by their own government, run by the radical Northern Sudanese Islamists who were becoming increasingly violent in their crusade to convert the Southern Sudanese, who were mainly Christian. Without knowledge of who had survived the violent attacks, the boys, along with a few girls, were forced to run from their villages.
These children, 26,000 of them, ages two to seven, traveled by foot more than 1,000 miles across the desert before reaching the refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. Many young boys were lost on the trip, to hunger, thirst, continued military assaults, and wild animals (including lions and crocodiles).
Though they spent the majority of their lives in these refugee camps, in 2001, some very lucky Lost Boys received sponsorship to move to the United States. Peter and Santino were among this group and were relocated to Texas. William and Simon were moved to Southeastern Virginia, near where I live.
Thrown into an alien environment, I was stunned at their ability to assimilate into a culture and a nation so foreign to the lives they had lived. Simon and William told their harrowing story of seeing family members murdered and walking alone through the desert with no shoes, clothes, food, or water. Simon explained that he was bitten by a King Cobra, but was one of the “lucky” ones that survived. He is now in Pharmacy School at Hampton University so he can help develop and distribute life-saving pharmaceuticals, including anti-venom.
When I left their presentation, I immediately called my sister and shared my new knowledge. We really wanted to help. Julie Hill, Director of Outreach Africa: The Lost Boys and Girls Foundation balanced speaking engagements, personal and monetary issues, and anything and everything having to do with supporting the Lost Boys in Southeastern Virginia. She suggested that a good way to help the Lost Boys and Girls in America would be to sponsor their young relatives who are still refugees in Africa, allowing them to attend boarding school where they would receive one meal per day, a uniform, an education, and safety. This program benefits the Lost Boys and Girls currently living in the United States by lifting some of the emotional and financial burden that comes from going to school and having two or more jobs in order to support themselves and their relatives in Africa.
Since that time, my family has come to sponsor a total of six refugee children in Africa. Most other young children are orphaned and have no adult to protect them. Even in the refugee camps, they are at extreme risk of starvation and dehydration, they have little education, and they are vulnerable to being kidnapped by rebel armies trying to fill their ranks.
Our sponsored children now attend boarding school in Kenya where school consists of three semesters with a month off between each. While the children are on break, they stay with relatives near the schools or in the refugee camps. William has arranged it so that my sister and I have been able to talk to the sponsored children on the phone when they are not in school. They are so grateful and hopeful for the future. In addition, we have received letters and school pictures from the kids. We are in constant contact with William and he gives us updates from Africa each time we talk. Outreach Africa: Lost Boys Foundation literally means the difference between life and death for the Lost Boys young relatives. It is the most immediately gratifying organization I have ever been a part of because, for just $250, a child who is near death today, can be in school receiving an education and a future tomorrow.
- Corrie Leifer