'Lost Boys' of Sudan Tell Their Story

Thousands of children were orphaned and displaced by the Sudanese civil war in the 1980s. Many children survived a gruesome 1,000-mile walk to get to the closest refugee camp. John Majok, one of the children from that journey, talks about survival and the power of love.

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

From time to time, we like to tell you about the movers and shakers who don't always make it to the front page. And today, we are joined by John Majok, a man whose story is both heartbreaking and inspirational. Majok is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, the young boys who walk thousands of miles, fighting starvation and wild animals as they fled the violence of their country during civil war.

Majok sought refuge in Kenya, ultimately moving to Tucson, Arizona. And he's been in the United States for six years. He recently returned to the Kenyan camp that was his home. And he joins us today in the studio.

John, thanks for coming in.

Mr. JOHN MAJOK (Lost Boys of Sudan): Thank you very much for having me.

CORLEY: Well, you were only - were you 6 or 7 years old when the war erupted and your story began?

Mr. MAJOK: I was about seven.

CORLEY: You were seven. Tell us a little bit about that, what you remember from that time.

Mr. MAJOK: Well, I remember how I walked a thousand miles with other children of my age to unknown destination. Of course, we were chased by the then enemy who was fighting against Sudanese. And so, we just walked, went into hiding place, (unintelligible), and then we walk that distance to a (unintelligible). So I remember how I was so adjusted walking day and night nonstop, because the journey was so long, and we spent some day maybe taking rest, then we would have perished like others who did not make it because they were thirst on the way, hunger, wild animals, and so we were just walking day and night until we reached, where we eventually arrived, which was Ethiopia in 1987.

CORLEY: So Ethiopia, first?

Mr. MAJOK: Ethiopia first.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. How many members of your family survived? I understand there are still some…

Mr. MAJOK: Yeah, my mother and my sister, they are the only surviving members. And I was having a huge family of 11 members, where I had eight siblings.

CORLEY: You actually went back to the Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya. Tell us about that trip, and who did you see there?

Mr. MAJOK: It was a joyous moment for me to reunite with my family after six years of separation. And also, the highlight of my visit was that I got married to my beautiful wife whom I promised - we made our promises before I came here that this was going to be our plan, and we kept our promises.

CORLEY: When did you make that promise?

Mr. MAJOK: In 2001, when I left the refugee camp. She was still young, but I trusted her that she would keep my promise and trusted me that I will keep her promise, too. So that was the highlight of my journey. Eighty days in Kenya with a joyous family reunion, and also bringing in a new family member.

CORLEY: Well, congratulations.

Mr. MAJOK: Thank you.

CORLEY: So tell me a little bit about this, though. You were here in the United States. Your fiancee, who you had promised that you were going to marry, was still in the refugee camp?

Mr. MAJOK: Yes.

CORLEY: And so how did you date?

Mr. MAJOK: Well, it's sort of funny, because we had been dating each other over the phone.

CORLEY: Over the telephone. Okay.

Mr. MAJOK: The telephone. It's a long-distant telephone. I buy cards and talk to her, and she talk to me. So we're going out over the phone rather than just physically dating each other. But again, the words were very effective on each of us, and eventually they materialized into a reunion. So here we are.

CORLEY: Here you are. She is here as well? Or…

Mr. MAJOK: Not at all. That was the heartbreaking part of…

CORLEY: Yes.

Mr. MAJOK: …you know, getting married, then I - all of a sudden I had to leave, and so I am now separated again. I hope we eventually will unite again.

CORLEY: Because you have to go through the whole visa process.

Mr. MAJOK: Exactly. And that's my priority - my first priority now just to make sure I go through all those immigration procedures, which take a while.

CORLEY: Well, we are talking to John Majok, who recently returned to Kenya and the refugee camp that housed him after fleeing his war-torn home in Sudan. As he just mentioned, he got married while he was there and saw his mother and his sister - a joyous occasion as he say.

Let's talk a little bit about what's been happening since you came to the United States six years ago. You did make it, but was it difficult to make friends, or how was that for you?

Mr. MAJOK: When we came as political refugee when we're - when I resettled here, we were put in group of two or three or four or five people - Sudanese who know each other in the same apartment. And then eventually, each one of us start finding job and so you find yourself working, you know, totally different environment. But, you know, we are willing to learn and just be able to put yourself in the society you can just learn.

And so - but when I was in the college years, this was just difficult to go around with - especially the young people around here. I mean, everyone has a friend or a boyfriend or a girlfriend, whatever. But in terms of making friend, generally, the society has been, I would say, on my side, has been receptive and very hospitable - especially in Tucson, Arizona, where I settled.

CORLEY: Well, were you - as you mentioned, you first were in Tucson, Arizona, went to school there in college and persuaded a degree in the school of public administration and policy at the University of Arizona. Tell me why you chose public administration.

Mr. MAJOK: I - specifically, just to familiarize myself with this society a little bit, and you can find more of that in public administration. But the number one is that I have the skills and saw the value that I see I can apply in that field. But for me its a prerequisite of going to law school, which would be my long-term goal.

CORLEY: You want to be a lawyer?

Mr. MAJOK: That's it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: Okay. You're only 26 years old now.

Mr. MAJOK: Yes, I am.

CORLEY: And you've been through so much. What do you think kept you strong?

Mr. MAJOK: Number one, my faith in God. I have never lost hope in God that I believe, and I think that what is strengthened me and kept me going. Number two are my values - my family value. Even though I was very young by the time I left, in (unintelligible) a society, you know, a child as soon as she or he learns how to speak, is told the story and the family tradition.

And those values, especially my dad, who inspired me to be determined and goal oriented, I still remember his words. And those words kept me going. So the principle by which I live - determination, devotion, diligence and discipline. And these four Ds, plus my belief in God, telling me achieve what I want to achieve.

CORLEY: John, tell me a little bit about what you're doing now, and what you wish for yourself and hope for your people and hope people will learn from your story.

Mr. MAJOK: What I hope for my people, first, is that the situation that my people are in now has to change. Southern Sudan need stability and development because the civil war, which took 20 years and left two million people dead, has formally ended by the - with a comprehensive peace agreement. So this is a time where people our need, you know, the implementation, that peace, and further is development.

In the other part of the country, they need protection in place like Darfur. Those people need protection. They are being killed. We people who learn from my story is that no humanity should go through such horrible situation I've been in and other Sudanese who have been through the same tragedies.

And so we want to do whatever is necessary to avoid the situation that expelled people from their countries, because to be a refugee is to suffer, but to live in a refugee camp is far more worse, and I've been through those things.

So I want people just to keep themselves from bringing anything that cause harm to any other human being, but then put the principle of life as the number one in everything we do, because what we do affect other people somewhere.

CORLEY: All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. MAJOK: Thank you for having me.

CORLEY: John Majok is one of the thousands of boys who was displaced by the Sudanese civil war. He is now a man who is working with a non-profit who is hoping to rebuild the southern Sudan. And he joined us here in our studio.

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