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South Sudan's "Lost Boys" return home

After years in exile in US, refugees go back to southern Sudan to build schools and health clinics.

DUK PAYUEL, Southern Sudan — When her labor pains began, Alang Majok, 16, got somebody to drive her for two hours through the African bush to reach the Duk Lost Boys Clinic.

Samuel Juma Malual, the facility’s clinical officer, heard a knock on the door of his mud hut at 1 a.m. and was roused out of bed. Majok was in labor for eight hours before she delivered a 6-pound baby girl on Dec. 1.

“People know where I’m sleeping so I wake up every time,’’ said Malual, 39, a former child soldier, who returned to the village in 2007 to work at the clinic.

The health clinic is one of a dozen initiatives inspired by a group of former “lost boys’’ who returned to southern Sudan to build schools, wells and provide health care in the villages they fled in 1987.

More than 27,000 boys were separated from their parents when soldiers from the Arab north bombed their villages and stole cattle.

The boys lived on the run, fleeing war, famine and living in a refugee camp in Kenya for 10 years. Their plight became a cause celebre in the U.S. in 2001, and nearly 4,000 boys were resettled in communities across the country.

Now some of those young men have returned to southern Sudan to help rebuild their homeland with help from Americans inspired by their story of survival and perseverance. To raise money, American school children sold T-shirts. Congregations organized spaghetti suppers. Doctors and teachers donated money and time.

In southern Sudan, a woman is more likely to die in childbirth than become literate. Only 10 percent of all deliveries in southern Sudan are assisted by skilled health personnel. That is why John Bul Dau decided to open the Duk Lost Boys Clinic to provide a safe place for women to give birth.

Dau, 36, one of three "lost boys" featured in the award-winning film “God Grew Tired of Us,’’ built the clinic in 2007, thanks to help from the Skaneateles Presbyterian Church, the upstate New York congregation that resettled him and four other boys in 2001.

The film and Dau’s autobiography, also titled “God Grew Tired of Us,’’ helped raise about $2 million for the clinic.

In a remote desert area where there are no phone or electrical lines, the clinic thrives on innovative technology. Solar panels allow the clinic to keep vaccines cold in a fridge. A satellite dish provides high-speed internet so the clinic’s nurses and midwife can use Skype to consult two Syracuse area doctors in difficult cases.

The war in southern Sudan ended in 2005, but there has been little development to meet the basic needs of the region's 10 million people. Ongoing inter-ethnic conflicts make it tough for the 130 NGOs in southern Sudan to reach all the remote areas where the young men are rebuilding. Southern Sudan is rich in oil but it is one of the least developed areas in the world.