Lost boys learn to ride
June 23, 2007
Learning to ride a bike can be a milestone for children. On Saturday, seven young men will ride bikes, a few of them for the first time.
These refugees from Sudan have missed out on some of the simplest pleasures growing up, instead spending their childhood facing the most extreme of adult situations, fighting for their very survival. Many of their compatriots didn’t make it.
The ride, organized by Parkite Steve Conney, and also made possible by the Chier Foundation, and White Pine Touring, will provide the seven with a morning of mountain biking and instruction.
Seven "Lost Boys," named after the orphaned characters in Peter Pan, will take part in the Park City bike ride. They are part of a group of more than 3,000 refugees who came to the United States beginning in 1999. One hundred and fifty have settled in the Salt Lake Valley.
Civil war ravaged villages in Southern Sudan in the late 1980s. About 20,000 children were able to escape the violence in which most of their families died. Most of the fleeing children were boys, as the girls were home with family while the boys were outside town tending cattle. When the boys saw the destruction of their towns they fled before soldiers reached them but their struggles were just beginning.
Masses of children fled on foot to Ethiopia, about a 1,000 mile trek in extreme heat with what little food and water they could find along the way. Many perished.
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They were driven back into Sudan by the Ethiopian army two years later. They fled to Kenya, where they took refuge in 1992. Only about half of the 20,000 survived the several-year ordeal. The U.S. State Department accepted the refugees into the United States.
Meanwhile, a group of seven Park City residents formed The Chier Foundation in 2005, to help the Lost Boys. Kate Geagan and her husband Peter, two of the founders, happened upon an article on the Lost Boys in the Boston Globe.
"We said to each other, ‘we can do something. We’ve got to do something.’" After moving to Park City in 2002, Geagan talked with the first Lost Boy to arrive in Utah, Andrew Marial, and asked him how he could best be helped.
Soon the Geagans bonded with other Parkites and founded the Chier Foundation.
The all-volunteer, non-profit organization, raises funds to educate the Lost Boys, and seeks mentors for the refugees who have settled in Utah. Mentors range from church groups, businesses and families, to individuals.
"They have helped the Lost Boys so much," Marial said of the Chier Foundation.
Conney attended the documentary The Lost Boys of Sudan, shown as one of the Park City film series. "I knew I wanted to get involved as soon as I saw the documentary," he said. His friends call him "the storm chaser," for his passion of snowboarding. He has a similar passion for mountain biking. "It dawned on me, the boys should have the experiences Utah has to offer," he said. He contacted the Chier Foundation, and White Pine touring to put together the biking event, which he wanted held in Park City. "Park City has great trails for all abilities, and it’s my community."
Conney believes the seven riders will progress quickly. "I have a feeling they are fit. They are survivalists."
Marial, now 27, will have no trouble keeping up on a bike. When he first came to Utah, he said he got a job in Woods Cross, but lived in Taylorsville. Although he could take the bus during the day to work, there were no returning busses at 12:30 a.m., when he got off work. He rode a bicycle home every night, on the freeway, which he said took him six hours. He would arrive at his apartment at dawn. He did that for three months until he was able to afford a car, which he crashed after leaving the dealership, on his first drive to buy auto insurance. That accident cost him several years’ income to pay off.
After talking with Conney, White Pine Touring store manager John Brooks provided the bikes for the day, as well as several mountain bike instructors. "I think it’s awesome," he said. "I know what they’ve gone through." Brooks is not daunted by teaching adults to ride a bike. "We can accommodate them no matter what."
Conney is going to instruct on the ride, which will begin on the Rail Trail. The more experienced riders will ride to Round Valley to watch a bit of a mountain bike race.
Geagan said the Lost Boys were educated in refugee camps and all of them are on the path to citizenship. Now, 57 of them are attending colleges in Utah, and that any donations can help put them through school. "I feel that instead of providing the fish, we’re trying to teach them to fish," she said. "I’m honored to be a part of it."
For more information, to donate, or to mentor the Lost Boys, visit http://www.chierfoundation.org , or contact The Chier Foundation, P.O. Box 681626, Park City, Utah, 84068.