Mississippi Home for Lost Boys Several years ago, a group of Sudanese refugees known as "The Lost Boys," came to Mississippi. One of the refugees, Peter Malual, is now a junior at Jackson State University. He shares his story. And Julie Hines Mabus, a former first lady of Mississippi, explains why she decided to become the champion of these refugees.

Mississippi Home for Lost Boys

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As we just mentioned, Mississippi's immigrant population has more than doubled since the year 2000. About half are Latino. The rest are Asians, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Africans. In other words, from around the world. How do these cultures collide and blend? Sometimes on college campuses and in Church sanctuaries. At least that's the story for Julie Hines Mabus, a former first lady of Mississippi. She was singing in her church's choir when a group known as "The Lost Boys" came to a worship service.

The boys, now young men, had fled war and genocide in their country of Sudan. Hines met the roughly 60 boys about seven years ago. I spoke with her earlier at the studios of WJSU. She was joined by Peter Malual. He's a junior at Jackson State University. And I asked Peter what brought him to Mississippi.

Mr. PETER MALUAL (Sudanese Refugee; Junior, Jackson State University): Well, let me begin with the war in Sudan. In Sudan, since we were born the war broke out in Sudan. And at the time, the government, the enemies, attack our villages. So, we flee to Ethiopia for rescue. And then the war broke out in Ethiopia so we moved back to Sudan. And then, on the way, a lot of people, many of us die of diseases and some were eaten by animal. So we, you know, face a horrible life in Sudan.

So we went to Kenya. So we were in Kenya for seven years. So we start going to school. So we stayed there but there was nothing, actually, because we didn't have enough to eat at first, we didn't have clothes, we didn't have medication. So the U.S. government with the United Nations decided to bring us here because they know that there's a lot of opportunities over here in America.

MARTIN: Julie, how did you first meet Peter?

Ms. JULIE HINES MABUS (CEO, Sudan Reconstruction Skills Search Project; U.S. Voluntary Expatriate Consultant, Southern Sudan Public Grievances Chamber): Singing in the Church. I made it over to where they were living in a group home and just started introducing myself to these boys and...

MARTIN: What made you do that?

Ms. HINES MABUS: I can't tell you, it was when I met them that day in the Church, when I saw them coming in, I knew my life had changed. I was going through some tough times, a tough divorce, and had lost custody of my children. And these boys and girls for the next few years after that happened became like my children.

MARTIN: Peter, do you remember when you first met Julie?

Mr. MALUAL: Yes, I remember the first day we went to church. We were sitting in the back. Julie walked to us, and she was introduced to us. And they told us she was the first lady of former governor.

MARTIN: What were your impressions?

Mr. MALUAL: Well, I was very impressed to have a first lady as my mother - as we call her - because when we came here we didn't have anybody.

MARTIN: Can I ask you, what was the strangest thing when you first got here?

Mr. MALUAL: Well, the strangest thing was a lot because we had a culture shock. Everything was different, almost everything.

MARTIN: Everything.

Mr. MALUAL: Yeah. The language was different because I could not understand, you know, people. Especially southerners, they speak different English.

MARTIN: Sure. In Kenya, a lot of the English sounds like British English. A lot of your teachers would be, sort of, British. Julie, do you remember when you first met the boys - young men? What did you think your relationship with them would be?

Ms. HINES MABUS: I envisioned it to be exactly as it is now. I knew I had connections that I had accrued being in a political life, and these boys and girls were so driven - they wanted to be able to have their education, they wanted to be able to practice their religion the way they wanted to - and so I determined to use all of my resources to help them over here. And it's really been as much, and now much more, than I ever imagined, but very much like I had originally imagined. I wanted to be a mother to them. That's what I became.

MARTIN: You know the racial history of this country is particularly fraught in the whole, kind of white woman, black man thing is particularly fraught with history. And I just wonder have you had occasion to explain any of that to the young men? I mean, this is something that in this country young, black boys are taught, earlier than I think a lot of us would like, about how they are supposed to relate to women, particularly of a different race, in order to protect themselves. Have you ever had to have that kind of conversation with them?

Ms. HINES MABUS: No, I really haven't. It's been so purely maternal, and they've taken their own knocks out on the streets just coming over here looking very different. They've had to learn things and adjust. But with me, our relationship has been like mother-son.

MARTIN: Peter, I was asking you if you still have contact with your family in Sudan. Are you able to speak with them? Do you know how they are?

Mr. MALUAL: Yes, sometime, yeah. Actually my parents, they are not alive. But I have siblings and other relatives, so I talk to them sometimes. But sometime the telephone don't go through because of poor communication over there.

MARTIN: That must be hard.

Mr. MALUAL: It is a little bit hard. It is.

MARTIN: Peter, I understand you are studying Spanish?

Mr. MALUAL: I'm learning English. I am still learning English, but you know, learning different language - two different language at the same time is kind of (unintelligible). So sometime I feel like I want to delete some in my head! I feel like it take time to translate from Spanish to English and then to Dinka. So it is a three step, so...

MARTIN: I can imagine. What do you want to do? What is your dream?

Mr. MALUAL: Well, my dream is that I want to go to Pharmacy School, because in that way I think I would feel like I would help people back home. Because when I was there I saw people dying of certain diseases that should not actually kill people. I have a bad memory about people dying in front of me, and I was not able help. But if I go to Pharmacy school and be able to give medication to the sick over there, so I feel like I would be able to help.

MARTIN: Do you want to go back home to Sudan?

Mr. MALUAL: Yeah. Definitely, if I get through with school here I would go and help. And I will make both United States and Sudan, my home, so.

MARTIN: I'm just wondering if you could explain to people back home about your life here. Is there something you'd want to tell them?

Mr. MALUAL: Well, what I would tell, you know, people back home, even when I was there, I have like high expectations because they say, America, we feel like you just get everything on top of the tree. So that's how everybody feel other there. But since I'm here, I understand how hard life it is over here. So it is not easy. So I would tell people that even though a lot of people are trying to come over here, you know life is not that easy everywhere.

So everywhere you go there are some difficulties that you have to face. In terms of the diseases, you know, there's nothing I can do because, you know, I just can ask God to try to at least protect them and make them healthy, because we don't have medication over there. So even though people get sick they just die, like I said earlier, and so it's a lot to be done in Sudan.

MARTIN: Julie, we live in a time here where many people are very angry about immigration. Is there something you would like people to know about your experience in reaching out to these young men who were so different from you, and whose life is so different from yours?

Ms. HINES MABUS: I'll be getting on a plane to go to Juba, Sudan today. I went last year. And in traveling and seeing and experiencing people from different cultures, the world is getting to be very small. We can't put up 20-foot walls. We all have to - need to - we must learn as a global community, to live together. And that is one of the things that I am so determined to do, is to build a bridge between southern Sudan and United States so that we can have a better understanding of these folks who fought so hard for their own religious, economic and cultural freedom.

MARTIN: And also, just as a person - I mean, you've had so many interesting life experiences. You've lived overseas. Your former husband was an ambassador to Saudi Arabia. At one point you, sort of, lived overseas and obviously, being a former first lady that's a very kind of interesting life experience. And obviously you have a way with people.

Ms. HINES MABUS: Thank you.

MARTIN: But is there something that this experience has brought you that you would not have expected?

Ms. HINES MABUS: It's brought me to where I am right now. And I never dreamed that the connections and the people that I met would have been used in such a way. I wanted them to be. I was ancillary in the process, I was the spouse. It wasn't mine. And now it's mine, and I can share that with these young boys and girls. And I can share it nationally. There is a national organization that's gotten started, and we are going to have a conference next year with all the lost boys and girls coming, hopefully, into Washington. And so I never expected it, but it was a gift that's been given to me that I can share now.

MARTIN: So they were lost, but you have also...

Ms. HINES MABUS: I was lost too.


Ms. HINES MABUS: But now we've found each other.

MARTIN: Julie Hines Mabus is the first U.S. voluntary expatriate consultant for the Southern Sudan Public Grievances Chamber. Peter Malual is a junior at Jackson State University. They are very good friends.

Ms. HINES MABUS: Indeed.

MARTIN: And they were kind enough to join us at the studios of WJSU at Jackson State University. I thank you both so much for speaking with us.

Ms. HINES MABUS: Thank you, Michel.

Mr. MALUAL: Thank you. It was my pleasure.

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