“Lost Boy” recalls his deadly trip across Africa



About 130 students from Rimbey Junior/Senior High School, Ponoka Composite High School, and West Country Outreach School recently had the privilege of listening to James Nguen, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” as a part of their social studies course.

Nguen, now a resident of Calgary, talked to students about his experiences during the civil war in Sudan in the 1980s and 1990s.

Government forces attacked his village when he was seven years old and he, like many other children, was separated from his family. He and approximately 30,000 children were forced to march across Sudan to Ethiopia. The trek was about 1,500 miles across brutal terrain. The children were under constant threat from government artillery, starvation and wild animals such as lions and crocodiles that preyed upon them as they crossed the deserts and rivers.

Their goal was to reach the safety of the refugee camps in the north. The Ethiopian government and relief agencies were able to shelter and feed these children for three years, but unfortunately, Ethiopia had its own civil distress and this forced the children to start marching south towards the safety of refugee camps in Kenya. Of the 27,000 to 30,000 who began in Sudan, only about 11,000 made it to Kenya alive.

Nguen spoke to students about the trek, the dangers, the conditions in the camps, and his experience of coming to Canada, along with 600 other Lost Boys of Sudan who are living in Canadian cities. He also spoke about the hardships and challenges he faced when he came to Canada — culture shock such as seeing snow for the first time, not being able to speak the language fluently, and loneliness resulting from the realization that he had no family here.

The presentation also included Nguen’s journey back to Sudan almost 20 years after the initial march. There, he found his mother; each had believed the other had perished in the attacks. His mother, however, was now almost completely blind due to trachoma, a disease caused by drinking unclean water.

Nguen started the Biluany Literacy and Water Project, an organization dedicated to educating Sudanese children and providing clean water wells for Sudanese villages.

Students from all three schools watched his documentary, The Long Journey Home of James Nguen and then had the opportunity to ask questions about his journey, his hardships, and his new life in Canada. They were also able to present the Biluany Literacy and Water Project with a donation of $326.

His message about the impact of conflict, the hardships, and challenges of life, and the importance of education was inspirational. Many students thought the presentation was so thought provoking, they plan to invite Nguen back every semester to speak to the Grade 10 students within their globalization course.

Hearing about experiences such as this reminds us all about how fortunate we are to live in Canada.