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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.

The former "lost boys’’ are motivated because of the injustices they saw growing up. They learned to read and write in makeshift schools in refugee camps. They saw their friends die from diseases because of the lack of health care.

“They went to Ethiopia, Kenya and the U.S., and their eyes opened wide that something is wrong in southern Sudan,’’ said Franco Majok, 47, a Sudanese refugee who built a school in his village, Wunlang. “They realized there was injustice. When peace was signed, they went back and saw that the government was slow to develop the area. When you see no clean water, no schools, then we think maybe we should do it ourselves.’’

Majok, who helped resettle "lost boys’’ in the Boston area, created Village Help for South Sudan to develop Wunlang. He is also building a clinic and an orphanage.

He recruited Angelo Kiir, a former “lost boy,’’ who resettled in Syracuse, N.Y., to work for him. Last year, Kiir quit his job as a patient transporter at St. Joseph Hospital and Health Center in Syracuse. Kiir decided to return home after he lost two siblings to the lack of health care. His 19-year-old brother died of diarrhea after drinking from a muddy stream. His 18-year-old sister died in childbirth.

“People are dying, people are suffering,’’ said Kiir, 28, field director of Village Help for South Sudan. “It is because of that suffering. That’s why I’m here.’’

Kiir is making bricks for a health clinic. The project has already built classrooms for Wunlang School so that 600 students were able to move from under trees into eight classrooms two years ago.

They sit at desks made from mahogany trees cut from the nearby forest where villagers hid from Arab soldiers during the 21-year-old civil war that killed 2 million people and forced 5 million more to flee to refugee camps.

In April, Sudan will hold its first democratic, multi-party elections in 24 years, but most people in southern Sudan are concerned about the January 2011 vote to become independent.

Dau knew the war would end someday; he wanted to be prepared. His work on the clinic began in 2004.

Since its inception, the free clinic has treated more than 28,000 patients; delivered more than 250 babies; vaccinated more than 3,000 children; and provided prenatal care to more than 450 pregnant women. In January, the Duk Lost Boys Clinic performed its first blood transfusion.
Dau said the opportunities in America motivated him to help his people.

“I was encouraged by the fact that people are so generous and they will support you,’’ he said. “Being motivated means I was ready to go. I took it upon me to be the one that is changing that country.’’

Alang Majok is thankful that she could go to the clinic when she had her first child.

“For me, I was about to die because the labor was really bad,’’ she said, sitting on the concrete floor with her daughter, Akim Mathei. “The clinic is important because I am alive.’’