The Lost Boys of Sudan is the name given to the groups of over 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005); about 2.5 million were killed and millions were displaced. The name "Lost Boys of Sudan" was colloquially used by aid workers in the refugee camps where the boys resided in Africa. The term was revived, as children fled the post-independence violence of South Sudan with Sudan during 2011–13.
Most of the boys were orphans separated from their families when government troops and rebels of the south systematically attacked villages in southern Sudan, killing many of the inhabitants. Many avoided capture or death because they were away from their villages tending cattle at the cattle camps (grazing land located near bodies of water where cattle were taken and tended largely by the village children during the dry season) and were able to flee and hide in the dense African bush. Some of the unaccompanied male minors were conscripted by the Southern rebel forces and used as soldiers in the rebel army, while others were handed over to the government by their own families to ensure protection, for food, and under a false impression the child would be attending school.
Presumably orphaned, they traveled by foot for years in search of safe refuge, on a journey that carried them over a thousand miles across three countries to refugee camps where they resided in Ethiopia and Kenya and in various villages where they sought refuge in South Sudan. Over half died along their epic journey, due to starvation, dehydration, sickness and disease and attack by wild animals and enemy soldiers. Experts say they are the most badly war-traumatized children ever examined.
The war impacted girls too. When villages were attacked, girls were raped, and women and small children (boys and girls) were taken to the north to be used or sold as slaves. When arriving in the camps in Ethiopia, the boys were placed in boys-only areas of the camp, but according to Sudanese culture, the girls could not be left alone and were placed with surviving family members or adopted by other Sudanese families. When the resettlement program to the US was initiated in 1999, one of the requirements was that the children must be orphans. Because these girls had been living in these family units for up to 9–14 years, they were no longer considered orphans and therefore, were not eligible for the resettlement program. As a result, relatively few of the Lost Girls were deemed eligible for the resettlement program to the US.
From 1992 to 1996, UNICEF had reunited almost 1200 Lost Boys with their families. However, about 17,000 were still in camps in the area as of 1996.
In 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between the North and South of Sudan allowing free access to Lost Boys/ Girls and Sudanese Diaspora from around the world to return to their homeland. As a result, many are now returning to South Sudan to pay it forward and help in the rebuilding of their war-torn country and to provide humanitarian aid and support. In January 2011, 99.47% of South Sudanese voted to separate from the north and become an independent nation. Some American former Lost Boys and Girls now hold positions in the current Government of South Sudan.
Books, films and plays
There have been a number of books, films and plays about the Lost Boys, including:
2007: Not Just Child's Play: Emerging Tradition and the Lost Boys of Sudan, by Felicia R. McMahon. An analysis of the music, dance, and folklore of the DiDinga community living around Syracuse, New York.
2003: Lost Boys of Sudan, a documentary film about two Lost Boys, Santino Majok Chuor and Peter Nyarol Dut, who came to the US. Aired on P.O.V..
2003: A Great Wonder: Lost Children of Sudan Resettling in America, a documentary about three Lost Boys who immigrate to Seattle, WA.
2002: Benjamin and His Brother, a documentary by the late Arthur Howes about Benjamin and William Deng, brothers in a Kenyan refugee camp who are separated when only one is accepted by a US resettlement program.
2002: Kakuma Turkana: Dueling Struggles: Africa's Forgotten Peoples by Daniel Cheng Yang, a photographic journal of Kakuma Refuge Camp and the indigenous Turkana peoples of northwest Kenya.
Sudan Development Foundation - SUDEF is a non-profit working in South Sudan in partnership with rural villages to improve their quality of life. Founded in 2007 in Burlington, VT by Lost Boys Abraham Awolich and Peter Keny, their community based approach recognizes the resilience, the shared responsibility and the on-going commitment necessary to establish self-reliant, healthy communities that build lasting peace.
The Hope of Sudan is a united alliance of all proven Sudanese-led nonprofit organizations in the United States that share a common mission — to provide the foundation for stable communities and empower our Sudanese brothers and sisters to transform their villages socially and economically.
Gabriel's Dream A charity dedicated to securing education and dental care for the lost boys.
Pongborong Primary School - In 2004, Peter Magai Bul and the ACDA established Pongborong Primary School, which served 300 students. With the support of ACDA, the school has grown to serve approximately 800 students in grades one through seven.
South Sudan Village Care Foundation - South Sudan Village Care Foundation is a not for profit organization formed in Rochester, NY, founded by Palath Thonchar, one of the Lost Boys & Girls of South Sudan. Their mission is to build and maintain a medical clinic in Palath's home village of Panrieng.
Hope for Ariang, Lost Boy Gabriel Bol Deng's project to build a primary school in the Bhar El Ghazal region
Water for Sudan, founded by Lost Boy Salva Dut to provide clean water to Southern Sudan