Story Publication logo May 22, 2007

Leaving for Nairobi


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Gabriel Deng, Koor Garang and Garang Mayuol, Southern Sudanese "Lost Boys" in the U.S., were forced...

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Gabriel Bol Deng graduated from Le Moyne university on Sunday. He stood among the crowded throngs of students and proud families in his cap and gown, receiving not only his diploma, but a human rights award and student-teacher award. That night, a family he is close to in Syracuse gave him a graduation party. The house was crammed with the people whose lives Gabriel Bol had touched during his past six years in Syracuse, where he came as one of the Sudanese Lost Boys who was granted permission to resettle in the US from Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya where he had been living after fleeing Sudan when he was a small boy.

One person after another came up to me at the party, mothers, mostly, who all shared a maternal feeling of protection towards Gabriel. "You must be Jen!" they said, or, "You must be the filmmaker going with Gabriel!" I guess the camcorder in my hand was a dead giveaway. Each mother pulled me aside. "We're so worried about Gabriel. About what he will find, what he might not find, and how it will impact him. We're excited for him, but so nervous..." Earlier that morning, I was filming Gabriel Bol as he prepared for graduation with his classmates, putting on his cap and gown, congratulating his classmates."How are you feeling?" I asked him for the camera right before Lehni (the producer) and I headed upstairs to set up the tripod to film the ceremony. "Excited...but it's not complete without any member of my family here. Maybe in two years when I'm getting my masters degree, there will be some of my family sitting in the audience."

Gabriel Bol's family is part of what he will find, or not find, when we leave early this afternoon for Sudan, back to his native village, via Kenya.

It's astounding, really, the amount of coordination a trip like this takes. Chartering an airplane to bring our party of seven (three Lost Boys, two friends of Chris Koor Garang, one of the Lost Boys, journalist David Morse and myself) to a remote area deep into Southern Sudan--not to mention the hundreds of pounds of medical equipment that Chris Koor has been raising money to purchase and bring. Trying to obtain all the necessary permits and approvals in advance (Government of South Sudan entry permits, Government of Kenya permission to visit Kakuma Refugee Camp, UNHCR coordination for Kakuma, export documentation for the medical supplies). Making sure our cash is year 2003 or later. (bills from 2002 or earlier are not accepted in Kenya or South Sudan). Gabriel Bol and I spent most of yesterday running around obtaining cash and trying to determine which was the proper snake-bite medication to buy.

In a few hours, we'll be at Syracuse Airport. Chris Koor Garang may already be at the airport in Tucson. Samuel Garang Mayuol, the third Lost Boy on the journey, is flying from Chicago. The young men will all meet up in Heathrow Airport in London early tomorrow morning. They haven't seen each other since they shared a hut in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.

I think I speak for David as well when I say we feel privileged to be accompanying these young men on their voyage of discovery—about the fate of their families, their home, the situation in South Sudan today, and how they can concretely contribute to peace and development in their homeland, which needs it desperately.


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Peace Initiatives

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