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Lost Boys of Sudan raise awareness in Ohio

Daniel shares his story of survival in Sudan. (photo © Jeff Dorr. More photos from the event: http://bit.ly/iYULwp)
Friday, May 13, 2011

by Kim Miller
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA

(Washington, D.C.) May 13, 2011 — Recently I had the opportunity to join St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland for a special "Refugee Awareness Day" held on campus. This event was the product of a few months' planning with SIHS’ dedicated staff who believe in the importance of spreading awareness of refugee issues to their students. Overall, the day was a great success, and the students walked away informed and energized to address refugee issues on local and international levels. 

In the days leading up to the event and as I planned out my keynote speech, I spent a while thinking about what I hoped the students would gain from the day. The word "Awareness" came to me loud and clear; after all, what would a Refugee Awareness Day be without spreading some awareness? So I outlined some of the gritty realities of refugee life—the abysmal conditions of refugee camps and urban poverty, the difficult decisions of what to pack when forced to flee, the enormity of the problem.  Did you know the amount of displaced people in the world roughly equates to the ENTIRE populations of OH, TN, WV, KY, MI, and PA?  43 million is no small number! 

Sometimes though, I feel I could share story after story, startling statistic after startling statistic, and still not shake people to their core. That, I believe, is the gift of one’s own story. For this reason, I was grateful that two Sudanese Lost Boys joined us for the event and shared their journeys with students. As both men humbly offered their experiences of fleeing home at the mere ages of five and nine years old, I noticed the students’ body language change. 

Many faces were marked in disbelief. It is one thing to hear, "Life is difficult for a refugee!" and another to hear the man standing in front of you recount the times he relied on mud as his source of water, fled from not only bullets, but lions and pythons, and innocently wondered why the dead boys surrounding him were sleeping so long. Even as I listened, I couldn’t help thinking about the miracle of his survival and wondering if I possessed the fierce strength required to persevere against all odds.

Not all of the stories were grim, and Daniel, one of the Lost Boys, made sure to point out the graces of the lives the students were currently living. "You have it so good here in the U.S! Don’t take it for granted!" he urged. Daniel then marveled over the prevalence of American gyms because in Sudan, there was no luxury of intentionally sweating out those excess calories. 

As the day wound down, I was filled with great hope. Awareness had truly been shared, and many students spoke of their desires to do something about that newfound awareness. Whether their actions are as simple as sharing a story they learned or engaging in direct actions, I am confident that seeds for a more hopeful future were planted that day.  

A special thanks goes out to the staff at SIHS for organizing the Refugee Awareness Day, and I hope that it is the first of many in the future!

To host your own Refugee Awareness day on your campus, in your parish, or in your community, please contact Kim Miller at kmiller (at) Jesuit.org for planning resources.

Learn more about Jesuit Refugee Service in Sudan by clicking here.