This project is about the extraordinary lives of the Lost Boys of Sudan. I’ve photographed 20 of these young men in the towns where they live and am creating paintings of each, to accompany their personal stories in a full-color publication. These are beautiful and heartbreaking stories about the war and their journey from Sudan to the US due to the conflicts that have raged in Sudan for more than 100 years.
The Lost Boys of Sudan
Experts say the “Lost Boys” of Sudan—who survived a monumental ordeal of escaping their war-torn country to relocate to the US—are among the most war-traumatized children ever examined. The Lost Boys of Sudan comprise a total of 27,000 boys (now men) who emigrated to the US in 2001. Displaced and orphaned during the country’s second civil war (1983-2005), these very young boys (ranging in age from about 4 to 13 years old) were separated from their families when government soldiers raided their villages, killing innocent civilians, kidnapping children for slaves, and burning everything in their path. Many young boys were able to escape into the bush out of sight of their would-be captors.
The large numbers of young boys who survived the destruction of their villages embarked on a very long journey to escape the violence in Sudan. Their trek took them hundreds of miles between refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya where they sought safety and schooling. The boys spent the next decade or more without their parents or families and without shoes, clothes, or reliable sources of food and water. Starving, diseased, and hunted by the government army, an overwhelming number of the Lost Boys perished on their journey.
The US resettled around 3,800 Sudanese boys in 2001 in different cities across America—the largest group of unaccompanied refugee children ever to be resettled in the US. Many of these young men had never seen electricity or used a flush toilet. Within just a few short months, they were expected to become fully-functioning citizens of a culture very foreign to them.
The displaced men now struggle here in the US to work and further their educations. In Sudan, school became very important to these orphaned boys. They had a saying: "education is my mother and my father". The young men have a driving need to acquire an education that will allow them to help rebuild their country.
Even with their eagerness, life for the men is difficult. Some of them juggle several jobs and a full course load at school so they can send money back to Africa to support surviving family and friends. For many still, going to school is set aside in order to pay bills and buy basic necessities in a place where the cost of living is so high.
Despite those difficulties, this group of men and women are some of the warmest, most welcoming, and hopeful bunch I've ever encountered. It's easy to see how they survived such terrible circumstances- their spirits are strong and their faith is enduring.