Sudan civil war survivor to students: Never give up
By Arthur E. Foulkes
TERRE HAUTE — A man who lived through years of near starvation and genocide encouraged students and others at Indiana State University on Monday never to give up.
John Dau, a survivor of the 1983-2005 Sudanese civil war and now a U.S. citizen, spoke on the ISU campus Monday, telling his audiences of his difficult years in Africa and his personal philosophy of perseverance.
“There are a lot of bumps in life,” Dau told first-year students in Myers Hall on Monday afternoon. “If you are determined, you can go through those bumps,” he said.
Dau was one of the “lost boys” of southern Sudan in the 1980s and 1990s. He and thousands of other southern Sudanese boys and girls fled their homes when government troops attacked their villages, he said. Sudan has experienced civil wars between the Arab and Moslem north and the black and mostly Christian south many times, including twice since 1955, Dau said.
While fleeing Sudan for Ethiopia, Dau and other “lost boys” survived by eating grass and mud, he said. Sudanese government troops ambushed Dau and other fleeing boys several times, he said. Many times, “I thought I was dead,” he said.
After three months, Dau and dozens of other “lost boys” arrived in Ethiopia where they were safe but often had little to eat. After three years, the Ethiopian government was overthrown by a group supported by the northern Sudanese, he said. They were then forced to leave Ethiopia and pursued by government troops.
Around half of the young people who fled Ethiopia to return to Sudan – more than 500 – failed to complete the journey, Dau said. Some were shot, some died of hunger, thirst or disease and some died crossing a crocodile-infested river, he said.
“The situation I was in was very bad,” Dau told an audience of several hundred Monday night in the Tilson Auditorium.
After again fleeing government troops in Sudan, Dau and the other “lost boys” and “lost girls” made their way to Kenya where they lived for 10 years in a refugee camp. It was in that camp, at age 17, when Dau began his education, he said.
“We were very happy getting this education,” Dau told the audience in Tilson.
“You guys are so lucky,” Dau told ISU students Monday afternoon. He told how his first three years of education included sitting under a tree writing in the dirt with his fingers. When pencils eventually arrived at the refugee camp they would be cut into three so that three students could use a single pencil, he said.
Dau finally came to America in 2001 with other “lost boys.” Recently, Dau has founded several not-for-profit organizations designed to help the people of southern Sudan. He has raised nearly $900,000 and built a medical clinic in Sudan. He also has starred in a documentary about his experience and written a book called God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir.
After arriving in America, Dau worked at McDonald’s, for UPS and as a hospital security guard. He earned an associate’s degree and is now working on a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse, he said. Dau hopes to convince the U.S. government to support the decision of southern Sudanese when they vote for possible independence in 2011, he said.
When Dau arrived in America, he had nothing but his immigration documents, he said. Now he is “living the American dream” and helping the people of Sudan, he said.
For more information on John Dau and his charitable work for Sudan, see www.johndaufoundation.org.
Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or [email protected]