'What Is The What' Lost Boy Casts Sudan Vote During Sudan's civil war, Valentino Achak Deng fled to Ethiopia on foot, one of the so-called Lost Boys. Deng's life became a best-selling novel in the U.S., and he returned to his homeland to build a school. As Southern Sudan votes on independence, he says he harbors optimism about the future.
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'What Is The What' Lost Boy Casts Sudan Vote

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'What Is The What' Lost Boy Casts Sudan Vote

'What Is The What' Lost Boy Casts Sudan Vote

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Travelling in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the vote.

HILLARY CLINTON: Among those voting this week are Sudan's so-called Lost Boys, men who were orphaned or separated from their families as children during the country's brutal civil war. NPR's Frank Langfitt caught up with one Lost Boy, whose life became a best-selling novel in America and who has returned to his homeland to build a school.

FRANK LANGFITT: After a peace agreement between north and south, Deng returned to Juba in 2006. He says when he got here the place was still a wreck.

VALENTINO ACHAK DENG: On some of this street, you can see destroyed war tanks. On some of these roads or some of this neighborhood, you could see the bones and skulls of dead people.

LANGFITT: Today, as Southern Sudan appears headed for independence, Deng is optimistic, and Juba looks a lot better. Paved roads arrived for the first time in 2007. Deng and a friend are now taking me past hotels and restaurants.

ACHAK DENG: Juba is a booming city.

LANGFITT: And one of incredible contrast. Next to barefoot women selling piles of gravel by the side of the road - so we're passing, right now we're passing - is that a Toyota dealership?

ACHAK DENG: Yes. Just imagine, we have a Toyota dealership.

LANGFITT: Deng grew up in a small village called Marial Bai. In the 1980s, northern bombers and Arab militias came.

ACHAK DENG: They bombed Marial Bai, destroyed it, killed everything, burned, took crops and livestock.

LANGFITT: Were you there when they came?

ACHAK DENG: I was there. I ran away with the rest.

LANGFITT: How old were you?

ACHAK DENG: I was nine years old.

LANGFITT: In 2007, he returned to start a high school in Marial Bai, where there was none.

ACHAK DENG: We have 250 students. Our annual budget for now stands at about 200,000 because the school is free.

LANGFITT: The school is funded by Deng's private foundation. He says most donations come from Americans touched by his story. Deng is now 32 years old. He says, for a Sudanese child of war, his life's journey is almost inconceivable.

ACHAK DENG: I never imagined that I would be any person I am right now.

LANGFITT: Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Juba, Southern Sudan.

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