The former Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan marked the 30th anniversary of the journeys of their childhoods and, of their youth, with a historic celebration on Saturday, November 25, 2017, in Omaha, Nebraska, USA. The event brought together South Sudanese, and few American friends. It was covered by members of the news media from KMTV Omaha 3 News Now, as well as from Colorado.
Hosted by members of the Lost Boys and Girls in Nebraska and held under the theme Remembering 1987: A celebration of Stories of Hope, Courage and Resilience, this first-ever event gave the Lost Boys and Girls a chance to commemorate the anniversary by reflecting on their experience, and giving thanks to the people of the world for their generosity, kindness and compassion toward refugees worldwide, including the millions of refugees from South Sudan currently languishing in refugee camps across East Africa. It was also a way to pay homage to the journey and the struggle by remembering and honoring the memory of those who were lost along the way. After the two national anthems--that of the U.S. and South Sudan--were sung, the event opened with a solemn one minute moment of silence in remembrance of those lost, followed by a word from the Scripture, which related the epic struggle of the children of South Sudan to the suffering and the persecution faced by the Israelites during their Exodus years.
The occasion also provided a perfect opportunity to bring awareness to those who might not have been familiar with the Boys' and Girls' story of epic struggle. The reflection on this very story, as has already been told in the larger context of the global refugee story, began with the audience watching the movie God Grew Tired of Us, a film about the Lost Boys, which was written and directed by Christopher Quinn and narrated by Nicole Kidman. The film began when the Lost Boys and Girls were leaving Kakuma for the United States.
After a brief introduction, the story of over 26,000 unaccompanied South Sudanese children who were separated from their parents in 1987, at the height of the second Sudanese Civil War, was then retold by three presenters---Garang Aguto Gong, Manyang Aluong Mathiang, and James Bol Chol--through riveting PowerPoint presentations, starting with the daring walk to Ethiopia in 1987, and then back to Sudan in 1991, before embarking on the harrowing of journeys, arriving in Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, in 1992. Parts of all the three presentations touched on adjustment to life in America following relocation of over 3,800 Lost Boys and Girls who were brought to the U.S. beginning in 2000 and 2001.
The high point of the evening was when James Bol Chol highlighted the achievements and success stories of some of the Lost Boys and Girls as he was walking the audience through the PowerPoint slides.
The other major hallmark of the evening also came when just about every speaker recognized the crucial and potential role being played by the Lost Boys and Girls in the rebuilding of South Sudan, with one notable guest speaker Mr. Thomas Doap, who advisedly appealed to the former child refugees to use their experience to blaze a way forward as future leaders who will advance the transformation of South Sudan, urging them, for example, to create some kind of a foundation that could galvanize social action and impact lives. Mr. Doap spoke in his capacity as a former program manager with the Refugee Empowerment Center, the resettlement agency that sponsored some of the Lost Boys and Girls who came to Omaha, NE.
Kuir Malual Deng, from South Dakota, made an announcement regarding a newly formed organization known as the South Sudanese Seeds of the Nation, Inc. as well as the organization's plans for a conference coming up in March 2018, including the possibility of inviting Pieng Deng Kuol and Ms. Adhar Arop, two icons who are familiar to the Lost Boys and Girls of Panyidu and Dima, Ethiopia.
Overall, the anniversary was marked with music, speeches and with the most popular of American poems, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, which was meant to present the audience with a choice, "a Robert Frost-like fork in a divergent road." And, South Sudanese, having witnessed the horrors of war, as well as the indignities of living in makeshift refugee camps for decades, chose, through their speakers, and in their speeches, the path less travelled by, one that counters the horrors of war, what with peace, reconciliation, or avoiding of war at all costs--always not the easiest but the right path for all of humanity.
Looking back, it was in February this year that the Lost Boys and Girls met in Omaha to discuss a proposal that led to the planning of the celebration. In it, the primary objectives of the 30th anniversary were presented as follows:
To come together in a spirit of brotherhood to reflect on the lessons and legacy of this long, storied journey, including looking ahead to what the future holds for the these former child refugees;
To show and/or express gratitude amongst ourselves and with the world, because of all the amazing acts of kindness and generosity shown to South Sudanese over the years;
To pay tribute by remembering the struggle by honoring the memory of all those who were lost along the way;
To highlight and celebrate the Lost Boys' and Girls' achievements and contributions to the global refugee story, amid journeys of tremendous courage and resilience of the human spirit.
The successful event Saturday evening capped months of planning and preparation by the organizing committee comprised of volunteers from 4 cities in Nebraska: Omaha, Nebraska City, Lincoln and Grand Island.
The masters of the ceremony, Mawut Paul Awel and David Yak Mayen, expressed gratitude on behalf of the organizing committee to everyone who attended the celebration, as well as those who could not make it due to work schedules or other commitments. The same immense gratitude was extended to all the Lost Boys and Girls in Nebraska, whose contributions and hard work made the celebration possible. In the end, this was a celebration of the stories of hope, courage and resilience--and of the Lost Boys' and Girls' determined will to survive, and overcome adversity.
Joseph Deng Garang,