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article imageLost Boy of the Sudan grows up Special

By Jacki Viles     Apr 11, 2013 in World
Atlanta - He came to work for us in 2003. My daughter told me he was a Lost Boy. "Oh, wow," I said. And my mind started rewinding and playing what I’ve heard about the war in the Sudan over the years.
From the early 1980’s through 2005 over 2.5 million people died in the Second Sudanese Civil War. Government funded militias decimated villages in South Sudan, raping and murdering their own people. Many in the region gave up their children to the soldiers believing they would be safe and sent to school. But in fact they were sent north and sold into slavery or forced into the military.
Close to 30 thousand more of these children, many as young as 7 years old would flee their homes and villages alone; running towards the woods with no plan but to survive that minute and make it to the next minute. They knew they could never go home. Most had no home or village to return to. As they hid they would meet up with other groups of children and wander together. The goal was to leave the country. Perhaps they would make it to Kenya or Ethiopia? Either way, it was a one thousand mile journey on foot. If the soldiers didn’t shoot you, the animals may eat you. Crossing crocodile filled rivers, they pushed forward. These are children that witnessed their family’s violent deaths. Then on the run, they watched the other children die from animal attacks, gunfire and starvation as they themselves became hunted game.
With the help of mostly privately funded worldwide relief organizations the Lost Boys managed to emigrate to other countries trying to rebuild their lives. This displaced group survives and has the unenviable distinction of being one of the most traumatized groups of war survivors ever studied.
Fast forward to today, after nearly 30 years of the recent conflict (the previous war after British decolonization went on for almost 20 years), South Sudan has become a new nation trying to heal. The new capital, Juba is now home to a very prominent U.N. presence where many nongovernmental aid resources and charities are centrally located. Those who survived and stayed and others who have returned find it difficult to look brightly ahead to the future. In their lifetime they had never known what it is to be safe and happy. They aren’t necessarily overcoming the tragedies and violence of a long conflict. With over 50 years of being on the defense from hostilities and unimaginable trauma, generations of Sudanese don’t know that any other reality exists.
The small capital of Juba has electricity and little comforts of the modern world. Villages outside the capital languish and the people try to get by. Families barely have shelter. What suffices as their homes do not have running water. Villages have no access to a clean water source. Most women walk for miles to find water from contaminated rivers and bring it back. Trips to get water take most of the day and mothers cannot be home to nurse their children. Left over land mines are a grim reminder that no place is safe. Farming can be dangerous and somewhat impossible.
This is the story of a Lost Boy trying to get home. Majok Marier came to this country after what was left of his family ran from what is now South Sudan to Ethiopia. At the age of 7 he made his way over one thousand miles on foot through some of the bleakest geography on the planet. They survived animal attacks, hunger and rebel firepower. He grew up in Ethiopian refugee camps until politics got in the way. In 1991 the change in government in Ethiopia sent the refugees packing. At that point, they traveled again on foot to Kenya. This heart wrenching odyssey lasted from 1987 until 2001 when he came to the US as part of a humanitarian relief project.
Majok came to Atlanta and began working at the local farmer’s market. By chance he met someone who introduced him to my family which owns a local plumbing company. He has worked everyday since then and lives a frugal, quiet life. He is a man with a plan. He sends most of his money home to his remaining family.
I met Majok years ago. I remember when he wanted to go home awhile back to see his family. He wanted to get married and start a family of his own. And he did go home when the war ended in 2005. It was still very dangerous. But he is a man with a plan.
After he came back from his trip he began sending money back home to buy cows. What? Yes! Congratulations were in order. He found a lovely woman to marry. My understanding is that the number of cows needed to marry does not necessarily determine the value of a woman’s worth as much as it determines a man’s potential to care for his family. Majok bought 57 cows and got married in 2011.
Today, the man with a plan still has so much to do. His long-term goal is to find funding to get a deep well drilled in his village of Billingdaldiar, Lakes (State) in Rumbek. A local, safe water source is the mainstay of human society. The hardship to get water from miles away is unimaginable. Women leave their children behind and hungry to make the water trips. It’s dangerous, backbreaking work. The water is usually contaminated. It is the best they can do and it isn’t good enough.
A local clinic is on his list. If someone gets injured or there is a problem delivering babies, it can mean 4 to 6 people carrying the injured countless miles to the nearest facility. It is not unusual for the injured person to perish along the way and it is likely that the ‘rescuers’ will need medical assistance themselves after the long journey.
The immediate need is much more modest than the clinic or the deep well drilling project. Majok is the proud father of a little girl who is celebrating her first birthday today! When you see his face talking about his wife and baby, you cannot help but be excited for him. He has sent every dollar he has earned home for several years and now he needs funding to go home. There is a website that tells his story and is set up to take donations for his cause. Learn more about Majok and his family here.
I got to speak to him about his life and the problems in his village. I found him to be warm and kind and funny. But most of all he is hopeful. Check out the excerpt from our interview and meet an exceptional man for yourself.
More about Lost boys, south sudan, Majok Marier, Refugees
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