Lost Boys of Sudan graduate to next goal

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. — They jumped for joy, literally.

Six happy young men recently graduated from college. They celebrated, along with 200 or so friends and acquaintances, for hours with dancing, music and food. That's not unusual in the months of May and June, when most colleges hold commencement ceremonies. But these were not the usual graduates.

These were Lost Boys of Sudan. They had been among 100 orphans brought to San Diego County in 2001 from a primitive refugee camp in Kenya.

They arrived without having seen electricity in use, or canned food, or freeways—or textbooks and computers. What they had seen was death, destruction and long, lonely days without food and water.

In 1987 more than 17,000 young boys were forced to flee from their homes when Islamic fundamentalist death squads from northern Sudan swept through the south in an ethnic-cleansing frenzy—much like what is happening today in the neighboring Darfur region. The children who survived had hidden in the bush.

The boys—most as young as 7—trekked hundreds of miles through the desert to make their way to refugee camps, where they came to be known as the Lost Boys of Sudan. The 100 in San Diego were among approximately 3,600 young men that relief agencies brought to the United States. Most were committed Christians.

But on May 13, Mamer Ajak wasn't thinking of Kenya or starvation or long hours of studying. The new graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University was grinning from ear to ear during a celebration at St. Luke's Episcopal Church on 30th Street in San Diego. Grinning and dancing.

"This is why God saved us," said Ajak who majored in business and economics and plans to get an MBA.

Fellow PLNU graduates are Isaac Mabior Amol, in criminal justice; Nicodemus Awuol Lim, information systems; and Jacob Puka, biochemistry. Also celebrating were two graduates of the University of San Diego: Mayak Akoi Deng Aruei, sociology, and Daniel Akech James, theology and mathematics.

Each young man spoke to the 200 people gathered at St. Luke's to enjoy traditional Sudanese food, music and dancing.

"Jesus makes all these things happen," said Puka, who wants to help build a health system for his country.

The Lost Boys of Sudan are grown up now, and giving back.

Ajak has been hired by Humanity United and is returning to Sudan this summer to scout out possible aid projects.

Amol begins an internship this summer with the San Diego Police Department. He has raised thousands of dollars to establish an orphanage in his home village.

Puka is studying to become a physician's assistant, but will spend the summer as an intern in the Washington D.C. office of Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback.

James will attend graduate school in mathematics at the University of California, San Diego. Aruei is applying to law school. Lim has plans for graduate school after working to save money.

"It's just so wonderful to see them happy," said Karen Richards of the San Diego Lost Boys of Sudan Charitable Corporation, which has helped the young men since they arrived. "They're an inspiration to their community and to all of us."

A large number of other San Diego Lost Boys and other Sudanese refugees are attending area colleges, which may mean another celebration next year. For more information, contact the San Diego Lost Boys of Sudan Charitable Corporation at (760) 212-5706.