Sudan's 'Lost Boys' Find Old Friends at Conference

John Thon Majok, right, and old friend James Garang embrace as Majok arrives for
John Thon Majok, right, and old friend James Garang embrace as Majok arrives for "Lost Boys: Found!" conference. (Photos By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 7, 2006

After nine years of sharing the same hut, Angelo Maker and James Garang boarded separate planes to the United States, not sure whether they would ever see each other again.

Both were forced out of their southern Sudanese villages in 1987 by soldiers from the north. Maker was 7 and Garang 6.

Both of the boys' mothers were murdered before their eyes, and both hid among the dead to avoid capture. Both walked hundreds of miles through the treacherous African desert, enduring starvation and evading bandits and wild animals to find a safe haven. Both became part of a community of thousands of children living parentless in United Nations refugee camps.

Then, weeks after finding a new home in the United States, they stumbled upon each other at a health clinic in Newport News, Va.

"We could not believe our eyes," said Maker, now 26. "We could not have dreamed it could happen like that."

This weekend, these "Lost Boys of Sudan" will be helping dozens of fellow lost children -- most of them now men and women -- find each other, decades after the persistent civil war in their country claimed thousands of lives and tore them from their families.

A reunion yesterday jump-started a two-day conference called "Lost Boys: Found!" at George Mason University in Fairfax. The conference, which starts today, is focused on bringing hope and advocacy to the humanitarian crisis in Sudan and is sponsored by the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and Crossroads United Methodist Church in Ashburn.

Since 2001, the U.S. government has accepted 3,134 of the displaced children, who were deemed "lost" by aid groups inspired by the rag-tag orphans who followed Peter Pan in the classic J.M. Barrie tale.

Through the U.S. government and religious organizations, they were resettled as refugees in locations across the country, particularly Texas, Arizona and Michigan. According to the U.S. Department of State, five live in the District and 129 settled in Virginia.

Theirs has been a story of relative uplift in a violent conflict that has dragged on for decades, despite constant calls from human rights groups for Western intervention, especially in the besieged region of Darfur.

The children -- tens of thousands of them -- fled villages across southern Sudan in 1987, when the civil war had escalated. Some were as young as 3, and before escaping into the brush, many watched as their parents were shot and beaten to death.

Garang remembers that his mother was cooking dinner as he played with his five brothers and sisters when the soldiers invaded the village. The family scattered at the sound of explosions and gunfire, he recalls. He fled but ran back when he saw soldiers beating his parents. His mother was dead by the time he got there, he said.

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