Alliance for the Lost Boys of Sudan
Mail: Alliance for the Lost Boys of Sudan, 8241 Wallingford Hills Lane, Jacksonville, FL 32256
In 2001, after about 150 Sudanese refugees immigrated to her hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., Joan Hecht took several of the orphans under her wing.
On Monday Hecht, author of “The Journey of the Lost Boys” visited Gainesville State College to share the refugees’ story.
The Lost Boys is the name given to the thousands of children who were orphaned during the Sudanese civil war that lasted from 1983 to 2005.
“In 1983, the Muslim government declared a holy jihad against the south,” Hecht said. Northern Sudan is a Muslim territory, while the southern region is predominately Christian.
More than 30,000 children were separated from their parents during the war, half of whom died seeking shelter in refugee camps in Ethiopia.
The majority of the children were boys, who escaped death or capture because they were away from their homes tending to cattle. The children escaped by walking alone in the African wilderness, battling hunger, thirst, disease and wild animals on the way to refuge in Ethiopia.
“Every lost boy and girl has scars from their journey,” Hecht said.
In 1991, Ethiopia was caught up in its own civil war, forcing the children to once again journey to seek shelter in neighboring Kenya.
“Before they knew it, they had been there nine to 14 years,” Hecht said.
In 2001, nearly 4,000 of the Sudanese children were allowed to immigrate to the United States.
Their lives had been spent isolated in rural African villages and refugee camps, which made adjusting to life in America difficult.
Eating with a fork, crossing the street and using can openers are some of the everyday tasks that they had to learn.
Hecht said many of the Lost Boys loved drinking through straws and asked her to take their picture so they could show their friends and relatives in Sudan someday.
“The most simple things just amazed them,” Hecht said.
Atem Da’Hajhock, one of the Lost Boys who refers to Hecht affectionately as “Mama Joan,” said he recently finished his college degree and has brought his surviving family members to America.
“The images that you have seen, I will not allow those images to determine my tomorrow,” said Da’Hajhock. “God himself has no power to bring back yesterday.”
Hecht and Da’Hajhock said they hoped the story would inspire students to take action against injustice.
“Since I came to this country I have never been silent,” Da’Hajhock said. “Please don’t be silent for the sufferings of my people.”
Hecht, who founded the non-profit Alliance for the Lost Boys of Sudan, said people should never feel like they can’t make a difference.
“You don’t have to be a movie star or a rock star or a politician to bring change to the world,” she said.