PBS: Lost Boys of Sudan
P.O.V. Film Series
Santino Majok Chuor and Megan Mylan
Program Guest and Director
Thursday, September 30, 2004
P.O.V.'s "Lost Boys of Sudan" tells an astonishing tale of two young men out of the thousands of young Dinka boys and girls who were orphaned and made refugees by Sudan's brutal 20-year civil war. For Peter Nyarol Dut and Santino Majok Chuor, having their villages destroyed and families killed, and being forced to flee into an unforgiving desert, marks the beginning of another incredible journey, their first year in America.
Director Megan Mylan and Santino Majok Chuor will be online Thursday, Sept. 30, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the film and the life of orphaned refugees in Sudan.
Submit your questions and comments before or during today's discussion.
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Santino Majok Chuor: Hello. This is Santino. I'm here to answer your questions.
Megan Mylan: Hello, this is Megan Mylan one of the directors of the Lost Boys film. I'm happy to be hear today, thanks for joining us.
What have Peter and Santino been doing since the filming ended?
Megan Mylan: We finished filming in early 2003. Both of the guys are doing well, but still working very hard. We have enjoyed being able to travel around the country with Peter and Santino to share the film with audiences.
Santino is still living in Houston, Texas along with many of his Sudanese friends. He works the night shift at a metals factory, unfortunately, he was there last night when the film was being show in Houston, so he didn't get to see himself on television. He is taking classes at Houston Community College. He did successfully pass his drivers test. Since coming to the U.S., Santino has discovered that siblings he had not heard from for many years are still alive and living in other African refugee camps. With Santino's financial support, one of his brothers has gathered the family and is working to take them back to their home village in Yirol. Over the last year Santino has traveled a great deal with the film participating in media interviews, school screenings and panel discussions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Indianapolis and Dallas. I'll let him tell you more.
Peter still lives in Olathe, Kansas. He finished up his senior year in high school joining the track team where he had a great deal of success, but he still enjoys playing basketball. He graduated from Olathe East High School in June of 2003 and has since been taking community college courses in preparation for a four-year university. He is considering studying medicine. Since the film's release Peter has participated in meetings with the Congressional Refugee and Human Rights Caucuses, the State Department's Bureau of Population, Migration and Refugees, the Kansas State Board of Education and CARE.
Would you consider moving to another city and going to high school like Peter did? After watching your story, I feel really badly that you're stuck in Houston working a very difficult job there. I know that once you would get an education you're standard of living would improve dramatically. God bless you and best wishes.
Santino Majok Chuor: I would move to another city but because of the government, I have to stay here until I get my documents. This might take a year or two years. After I get my documents, I might move, but I don't know where I would move. I will plan this later.
This question is for Santiano. In the documentary, you keep saying that "They did not tell us America would be like this."
Who is the "they" you are referring to and what type of information do you think refugees coming to the United States should be told or trained for?
Thank you and you are an inspiration to me and many others who saw you!
Thank you again
Santino Majok Chuor: The people who told us were the people who orientated us through the process. I think that we were not told that we would be staying here as independents, responsible for your own schooling and your own life. They said that when you come to the United States there is someone who will take care of your education and your living. There would be a sponsor who would visit you every week and see how you are living and how your education is going.
When we came here, the agency supported us only 3 months. And after 3 months, they said that you had to look after yourself. You were responsible for your own life at that point. They did not tell us before. That confused us because we didn't know the particulars of living here, like how to get into a school or the levels of the class that you should go to in comparison with our schooling in Africa.
Megan Mylan: The United Nations does give a cultural orientation to all refugees before they are resettled, but it is very limited and of course it is very hard to prepare someone for the magnitude of transition from refugee camp to modern America. We are pleased that the UNHCR who operates the camps are interested in using the film in camps around the world to give refugees a better sense of what they can expect from the U.S.
From our experience getting to know "Lost Boys" across the country, the most effective refugee agencies are the ones that know how to call on the local community to support refugees. They work with very small staffs, but many have mentor programs that partner refugees with volunteers who can help the transition. To find out where you can volunteer visit the Take Action page on our site at www.LostBoysFilm.com
What do you think the United States needs to do first to help the situation in Sudan right now? If you could make our government and our people do ANYTHING to help your country, what would be the most important thing for us to do immediately?
Santino Majok Chuor: The most important thing that I think should be done is to bring peace to Sudan. That is the thing that we are hoping for.
My name is Hanna and I am nine years old. I really liked the film about you and Peter and your friends. For a while I thought that Peter was in college because he was by himself. I want to know what your favorite food is in America and what food you miss most from home. Thank you!
Santino Majok Chuor: I don't have time to try as much food as I would like to. I'm always working or going to work and sleeping. I don't know that much about American food. What I miss most from my country is working on food outside and seeing the nature of the land, the trees and all the other beautiful things that are around. I miss all that. I also missing seeing the animals. I don't see that anymore. I don't see the sunset and the sunrise. These are the things that I miss.
How can I find out if there are refugees in my city? I want to help them.
Megan Mylan: Please visit the Take Action page on our website at www.LostBoysFilm.com
There is a link to the Refugee Council which is a consortium of all of the national refugee agencies and has links to their individual site. If you have trouble finding a local agency, email us at email@example.com
We have listings of agencies in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Rochester, sorry to say I don't know exactly wher Duluth is. This Minneapolis organization could likely refer you to someone in your area:
Refugee and Immigrant Program
Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights
650 Third Avenue South, Suite 550
Minneapolis, MN 55402-1940
(612) 341-3302 ext. 118
Fax: (612) 341-2971
Client Line: (612) 341-9845
Why weren't the boys placed in sponsor homes instead of
left on their own? Wouldn't that have eased their
transition into what must have seemed liked another
Megan Mylan: The U.S. Refugee Program is run through the State Department. If you are over 18 years old, as most of the "Lost Boys" were, you are considered an adult and are assigned your own apartment. Refugees under 18 that come without their own families are resettled into foster families. There were a few hundred minors in the "Lost Boys" group many of them are living in Michigan.
Whether you come as an adult or a minor refugee, making friends seems to be one of the most difficult and most important steps to making life good. To find out how to be a mentor, visit our website www.LostBoysFilm.com under Take Action
Thank you for being here. Would you tell us a little more about the "Lost Boys" who are girls?
Megan Mylan: When thousands of children fled civil war in Sudan in the late 1980's the group was predominately boys. Of the 3,800 "lost boys" that were resettled in the U.S. less than 100 were girls. There are several reasons for this. When villages were attacked, the men will killed first with women and girls often being taken captive. Many of the boys in Dinka culture spend time away from the village in cattle camps, they would return to find their families killed and villages destroyed. Others were encouraged by their elders to flee instead of being captured and forced to become soldiers. But there were girls among the boys fleeing the war. Once the youth were settled into the UN refugee camp the girls were placed with Sudanese families, while the boys stayed on their own. Once it became time to identify the girls who were part of the original "Lost Boys" group, Kakuma camp had grown to know be home to 80,000 refugees. It was difficult to identify who the lost girls" were, compounded by the fact that girls are valuable in Dinka culture as they bring a bride prize and families that had taken the girls in were often not eager to have the girls sent to the U.S.
Watching Santino and Peter's stories was absolutely amazing. I am so impressed by the intelligence and hard work of these two incredible young men. Although their home country is currently in turmoil, the Sudanese have such a beautiful and soulful culture, filled with traditions of family and close-knit communities and friends. Though they literally escaped with only their lives, it is sad that they are now faced with a culture of fast food and Wal-Mart and white Christian youth groups of priveleged kids. Have any other communities reached out to these refugees? If Santino and Peter could give us Americans some advice, what would it be?
Santino Majok Chuor: In 2002, several community groups visited us. They formed a Sudan-Aid organization. They are from the Baptist Church. They gave us some lamps, tables and chairs. Those are the communities that have visited us. They took us to occasions that they have so that we can share celebrations with them. In 2003, the Woodlands community took some of the guys to live there. So those communities have been very helpful to us.
I would like to know what churches are envolved with "The Lost Boys? And how can I sponser one of these children?
Megan Mylan: Education is the number one priority for most of the Sudanese youth. We recommend donations to the National Lost Boys Education Fund that is open to all of the Lost Boys and Girls pursuing education.
Contributions can be sent to:
The International Rescue Committee
Attn: Lost Boys Education Fund
122 East 42nd Street, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10168
For more information contact Sharon Darrough at firstname.lastname@example.org
There are many church groups that have volunteered with the Sudanese youth. Some of the federally funded refugee resettlement organizations are affiliated with churches, though their refugee work is secular. You can find a list of agencies on our site at www.LostBoysFilm.com under (Take Action/ Refugees) Most of the "Lost Boys" group are Episcopal and Catholic.
East Brunswick, N.J.:
Since you have been here in America, have people as a whole been helpful to you here?
What has been your biggest disappointment since you have been here, and your biggest positive experience? How would you like people here in this country to help you the most, what is your biggest need? I was so inspired by your story and you made me think of something I never did before, thank you for your courage, and for being such an inspiration to me. Welcome to America. God Bless you!
Santino Majok Chuor: The best thing in America is education. I started taking classes in the college in July of this year. I was going through the first semester and I stopped because I don't have high school documents. I am planning to go back. The documents that I needed had not arrived, so I was suspended. I had to get a transcript from the Camp where I lived in Sudan. It recently arrived, so I will see if the school will accept it and I will resume classes.
The biggest disappointment is that I don't have time to do the activities that I used to do before, like school. I'm an artist and I don't have time to paint. Sometimes, I feel like I want to go to play some games outside, but I don't have time to go and play outside because I'm tired from work and want to go to sleep. The next day, I wake up and go back to work. I just get exercise on the job.
Santino, What is the 1 thing that would help you the most in the form of aid? Food, furniture, money for an apartment, a scholarship?
Santino Majok Chuor: Money for a scholarship would be the most helpful.
Iowa city, Iowa:
Santino, are you getting any type of financial aid for education? If you are, get a good education. You seem like a pretty intelligent young man, with a good heart.
Santino Majok Chuor: When I applied for school, I signed up for financial aid. I got it, because when you are working they see that you need help and they can offer a little support.
If anyone wants to write to me, you can at email@example.com.
New York, N.Y.:
The Sudanese young men transplanted to Houston (and elsewhere) seemed to have as much difficulty adjusting to the African-American community as they did the white community, and America in general. At this time with which community do they feel more comfortable, or do they prefer to keep themselves as a Sudanese immigrant community apart from either the white or black communities? And why?
Megan Mylan: There is not a simple answer to that question. There is a whole range of experience and opinion among the "Lost Boys" group. A lot depends on what city they were resettled to and how they were able to connect with their new community, in some places refugee angencies were able to help facilitate the "Lost Boys" making personal connections with a diverse group of Americans. In other communities, like Houston, that didn't happen.
Unfortunately, the "Lost Boys" arrived with some of their own preconceived ideas about who we are as Americans. While we were in the camp, several of the young men we spoke with asked us if it was true that all black men in America were in jail. It was a sad realization for us of just how powerfully stereotypes travel. The "Lost Boys" we spent most of our time with in Houston had pretty insulated lives during their first year and were slow to make personal connections with native-born Americans. Without that personal connection ideas are slow to change. One of the happy things we've experienced with the film is how quickly the "Lost Boys" abandon their stereotypes when they are able to get to know people on a personal level. Many African Americans have commented to us at screenings that they feel like the black community has let these guys down, our take on that is that most people let newcomers down. In what can often be an alienating modern America, many of us don't take the time to greet our neighbors let alone get to know refugees.
It seems clear that you miss some aspects of life in Kakuma Refugee camp. Are you glad you were resettled and moved to Houston? What do you hope for yourself as the end result?
Santino Majok Chuor: In Kakuma, in the schools we did drama, debate and art appreciation and games -- and we used to talk about what we wanted our lives to be. A lot of conversation prepare you for the future. Here I have less conversation and less help from others. That's what I miss from Kakuma.
Yes, I am glad that I have been resettled and moved to America because of the opportunities here. I have been accepted to work and have a phone and the benefit of that is that I have been able to get in contact with other members of my family back in Sudan that I didn't know were alive.
What I hope for myself is that I have a vision to follow my education here. I hope that this will be possible.
Salt Lake City, Utah:
I have two Sudanese children in my second grade class who speak a language called Nuer along with two Somalian children and one other who speaks a language called Madi. These children have been mainstreamed with my other twenty children who either speak English or Spanish. I would love to know more about their families but am having a hard time finding interpreters who speak the different languages. When the government brings them in as refugees are they accompanied by any information as to their experiences in their home countries. If so, how do I access that information?
Megan Mylan: There are many "Lost Boys" that have been resettled to Salt Lake as well as other Southern Sudanese who aren't part of the "Lost Boys" group. I would suggest you contact the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake. You could contact Paul Bratton firstname.lastname@example.org There are Southern Sudanese working with the IRC and a support group.
Our website www.LostBoysFilm.com includes educator's background information that includes essays on Dinka (and to a lesser extent Nuer) culture. There are suggested reading lists. You can also find a discussion guide and lesson plans on the POV site at www.pbs.org/pov/lostboysofsudan
Megan, thank you so much for bringing so
many issues out for consideration.
Santino, I think you are very courageous. I
encourage you to hold high the values of
your tribe & your own personal strengths
& to keep the reasons you came here
always in mind.
Santino Majok Chuor: Thank you. That makes me feel good. I am very thankful to people who are concerned about me and love me. I am very thankful to Megan to tell everyone about my life. It is not something that I could have done on my own. Your comments give me strength.
Megan Mylan: It was a privilege for Jon and I to be able to share Peter and Santino's story. We are tremendously gratified that viewers have connected so powerfully with their stories. I'm sorry we weren't able to answer everyone's questions. If you would like to learn more or find out what you can do to help Santino, the Lost Boys, refugees in your community or the situation in Darfur, Sudan. Please visit the Learn and Take Action pages on our site
or the POV website at www.pbs.org/pov/lostboysofsudan
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