<i>60 Minutes II</i>: The Lost Boys

Orphaned By Civil War, Children Take 14 -Year Odyssey

In Peter Pan, there were lost boys who fought off pirates and crocodiles before flying off to Never Never Land.

In Sudan, thousands of lost boys fought off crocodiles and other dangers we can barely imagine and, as 60 Minutes II first reported last spring, are happily flying off to a new life in the United States.

Their incredible journey began 14 years ago, Correspondent Bob Simon reports, in the midst of Sudan's civil war in which two million people died. Their parents were killed; many of their sisters were sold into slavery. Many boys died, too.

But the survivors started walking. How many more died of starvation or thirst or enemy fire in the years that followed will never be known. But in 1992, five years after their long march began, thousands walked into a refugee camp in Kenya. And for almost a year now, many have been getting ready for another journey to a strange and foreign land.

Every Sunday, a plane arrives at the camp to take the boys from Kakuma to New York . . and beyo
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The Lost Boys

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nd. More than a thousand boys have taken this journey, and at least three thousand more are slated to go. It's the largest resettlement of its kind in American history.

Sasha Chanoff, an American at the camp who helps prepare the boys for their journey, says many have never been exposed to lights or to a fork or a knife or to a TV. “It's a group that's lost in time,” he says.

They call themselves the lost boys, but strictly speaking, they're not boys any more. Most were 7 or 8 when their troubles began in 1987. That's when their predominantly Christian villages in southern Sudan were attacked by Islamic forces from the north.

When the invaders struck, many of the boys here were tending their herds. When they saw their villages burning, they started walking. Within days, streams of boys became rivers. Hundreds became thousands until an exodus of biblical proportions was happening. Where were they going? No one really knew. And no one could have guessed they would continue walking for years.

Paul Deng was ne of the boys. He was seven when he began the walk. “ You have to urinate so that you can drink your own urine,” he says of the walk, adding “ I didn't want to die. Other people didn't want to die.”

It was the “Lord of the Flies” in reverse. They walked for three months across Sudan, barefoot, taking taking care of each other. At 11, Joseph Taban was one of the elders. He tried to protect the others from wild animals.

Twelve thousand boys made it to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, where they stayed four years. But then civil war broke out there and the boys were chased out at gunpoint to the Gilo River, where the waters did not part. Many were shot. Many drowned. Many were eaten by crocodiles.

“If you don't know how to swim, then you remain in that water,” recalls Zachariah Magok, adding “we saw so many people who were just floating on the river.”

The survivors of the Gilo started walking back into southern Sudan. They walked across deserts, over mountains. They had no food or water and ate wet mud.

In the spring of 1992, after walking more than a thousand miles, the boys made it over the border into Kenya, to a desolate place called Kakuma. For the UN, it was an emergency of vast proportions, these emaciated children. For the boys, it was the safest they'd been in five years. Amazingly, many had carried books with them all the way from Ethiopia. Somehow the boys knew that what they now needed to survive was an education.

“They feel that education will speak on behalf of them where their parents can't,” says Chanoff, the American aid worker. ”So they have a saying, it's actually a very important saying that they have, education is my mother and my father.”

For nine years, they've been surviving on one meal a day -wheat flour and maize – in the camp. In the year 2000, U.S. government decided enough is enough and began bringing them to America. Before they go, the teacher Sasha Chanoff gives them a crash course in America 101.

One lost boy, Abraham Nial is 21 now and an ordained minister of Sudan's Episcopal church in Kakuma. From what he's heard, America is a good place to go on preaching the gospel. He hopes to get there.

“I don't know much about America,” he says, “but one thing I like America very much because you think of others. You don't think of yourself.”

Joseph Taban continues to take care of the younger ones, but now he’s a medical assistant at the camp clinic. If he gets to America, he wants to go to medical school. Joseph says he has little hope that might actually happen.

“Maybe tomorrow something, something else may happen in which I may involve in - or innocently I may be killed,” he says referring to a fight in which eight refugees were killed.

Zachariah Magok, like hundreds of other lost boys, has been told his file is missing. He's watched cousins and friends go to Aerica, week after week.

“Of course, I'm worried about it. If I remain here, I will remain in darkness place,” he tells Simon. “In darkness. This one is a place where there is no future. There is no future in Kakuma.”

The future is on a bulletin board where every week another 90 names, the name sof th elucky ones, appear. Joseph Taban has taken the walk to the board so many times that now he takes it slowly and tries not to get excited.

But this week, it is different, his name is on the board and he is going to Kansas City, smack in the middle of America.

Abraham, the preacher, took the walk 25 times before he learned he was going to Chicago.

They had four days to pack their luggage. They took little, left less behind. Abraham was taking the Bible he’s had for 10 years, the one he carried from Ethiopia.

“I have been called a lost boy,” he says. “But I'm not lost from God. I'm lost from my parents.”

A last minute switch sent him, not to Chicago, but to Atlanta. Like the others who came before him, Abraham was greeted by volunteers from resettlement who introduced him to his new apartment. In a few months, he'll have to start paying his own rent. Eventually, like all refugees, he'll have to reimburse Uncle Sam for his airfare -$850.

But the good news is that Americans are accepting them .

“Here are these boys that are products of this horrific civil war and they're coming to our heartland and they're coming to our homes,” says Chanoff. “And you know what? People are falling in love with them. They think they're the sweetest, most amazing kids in the world and they're going to be a part of America now and that is unbelievable.”

NEXT: Life In The U.S.


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  • Mary-Jayne McKay

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