Lost Boys find home in Utah
July 5, 2006
In 1987, a civil war between Muslims and Christians ripped Sudan.
The war drove an estimated 20,000 young boys, most no more than six or seven years old, from their families and villages in Southern Sudan,. They fled to Ethiopia to escape death or induction into slavery and the northern army. They walked 1,000 miles through lion and crocodile country, eating mud to stave off thirst and starvation. Wandering for years, half of them died before reaching the Kenyan refugee camp, Kakuma. The survivors of this tragic exodus became known to the world as the "Lost Boys of Sudan," according to the International Rescue Committee’s web site.
In 2001, about 3,600 "Lost Boys" came to the United States seeking the peace, freedom, education and opportunities available here. Utah became the home for 150 of them. The Chier Foundation, a Park City non-profit organization, is hosting a fundraising dinner and auction at the Snake Creek Grill in Heber on Tuesday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m., to raise money for the Lost Boys.
Joseph Ayat, who now lives in Salt Lake, experienced the tragedy firsthand.
"Muslims were trying to kill everybody, trying to kill everybody from the south," Ayat said. "At that point they shoot every village. The boys go outside to take care of cattle and most of the boys were looking after cattle in jungle when the Muslims came. When boys came back, all their families died and villages burned down. After that they ran to neighboring countries. Most people died on the way. We stayed there in Ethiopia for two years. When we went back to Sudan there was still that fighting. Life in Kenya was very hard, no good food and good water."
Ayat said it was similar to the movie, Hotel Rwanda.
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"Really scary story," Ayat said. "A lot of people, when they hear a story like this, they are amazed."
John Ngong, who also has made a new home in Salt Lake, hasn’t seen his family since he left in 1987.
"I love my family I haven’t seen any of my family yet," Ngong said. "I’ve heard about some of them still alive but some of them are killed. It was a terrible life for me. I had no food for about 6 months, our life was terrible, but I survived. I was naked I didn’t even have clothes."
Ayat didn’t hear from his family for 14 years until last Thanksgiving, when he received a surprise phone call from his parents, who broke down in tears.
"You hope that someday, you just hope you will meet your family again sometime. Those whose parents are alive are really lucky," Ayat said. "It was very, very tough, I couldn’t believe it."
Many who came to the U.S. are finding opportunities for education difficult, Ayat said. Many are not able to pay for higher education.
"So many of these young men struggles with financial challenges," said Kate Geagan, founder of Chier. "They are being pulled from families in Africa and financial problems here. We saw a need to create a foundation where we are 100 percent volunteer and every dollar goes to the "Lost Boys."
The Chier Foundation, which was established last year by a small group of Park City residents, has already made a difference in the lives of refugees. Chier has distributed over $20,000 to fund the full educational needs, including tuition, books/supplies and application fees, to 40 Sudanese Lost Boys and Girls attending several institutions including, the University of Utah, Salt lake Community College, Utah State University and Westminster College.
"I’ve been in Utah for five years," Ngong said. "The Chier foundation was my best time for life. At that time I was sad, I didn’t have any money, then Chier foundation got me $425 dollars and that helped me out a lot. Without Chier foundation I would not be able to go to school. "My dream, for now, I want to get my degree and I want to pursue my education at the University of Utah then go to Sudan. Sudan is very good country we have a lot of mineral but people are illiterate, I can go to Sudan and say this is the life, you have to be independent."
Ayat also wants to return to help his country.
"My plans are to go to community college then university then go back to help my people. I need to study economics. And if I get a degree in economics I can help build the country economically," Ayat said.
Ater Akec Malek, who has found his mother and a brother, wouldn’t be able to go to school without the Chier Foundation. Now he is able to work on his Business Management degree.
"I’d like a chance to get my education and get my citizenship. When I get degree I will see where I best can work. I hope to stay here in U.S., I hope to work here."
The Chier Foundation, a Park City non-profit organization dedicated to helping the Lost Boys and Girls from Sudan, is hosting a fundraising dinner and auction at the Snake Creek Grill in Heber on Tuesday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m., to raise money for the Lost Boys. Chier is also looking for people to be mentors to the "Lost Boys." People can have them over for dinner, take them fishing and expose them to other opportunities. The fundraiser will auction off items such as a visit to "The Nine" set with actor Scott Wolf, a snowmobile trip for four into the Uintas, and an airplane ride with Treat Williams. The event will also have some of the "Lost Boys" there to share experiences and to show what Chier is doing for them. For more information on the Chier Foundation and ways to donate time or money, call 435-655-3469 or e-mail email@example.com.