Since 1983, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudanese Government have been at war in South Sudan. This conflict has already claimed more than one million lives and displaced huge numbers of people. Among these were at least 20,000 children, mostly boys, between 7 and 17 years of age who were separated from their families. These ‘Lost Boys’ of the Sudan as they were called, trekked enormous distances over a vast unforgiving wilderness, seeking refuge from the fighting. Hungry, frightened and weakened by sleeplessness and disease, they came from the Sudan into Ethiopia and back, with many dying along the way. The survivors are now in camps in Kenya, the Sudan and Uganda. This extraordinary exodus has its origins in traditional forms of migration. After being initiated into manhood, young adolescent boys in southern Sudan have generally been quite mobile.
Organized into small groups of their peers, they left home for a period of time to find work looking after cattle. They also headed for the towns or cities to go to school or to seek their fortune before eventually returning home. At times of stress families all over Africa send their children elsewhere to find safety, food, work and schooling. However, during the war this process has escalated dramatically. Fearing they would be targeted as potential combatants, many boys left their villages and headed for cities such as Juba and Khartoum. There they hoped to find work or schooling, but as these cities became saturated with migrants, the boys often had to resort to begging or petty crime for food.
Others set out for refugee camps in Ethiopia. Some travelled with friends or relatives, many slipped away on their own at night. Few had any idea of what lay ahead of them. They believed the trek would last only a few days and discovered that they faced a harrowing journey of 6 to 10 weeks. Continually under threat
From the soldiers, they would flee for their lives, losing their way in the wilderness. Often they lost everything enroute: blankets, sheets, shoes, clothes and pots to soldiers, swindlers or bandits. Many fell victim to killer diseases.
Others were so weakened by hunger and lack of sleep that they could go no further and sat down by the roadside, —prey for lions and other animals. The survivors who reached the camps in Ethiopia started to lead a relatively peaceful life. But that was not to last. Following the change of government in Ethiopia in May 1991 they had to flee again, back to camps in the Sudan. This time the journey was during heavy rains, and many perished crossing the swollen rivers or were hit by aerial bombardment. The luckier ones made it to a camp where they received help from the International Committee of the Red Cross. This relative security was shattered again late in 1991 when fighting erupted around them, and they and children from other camps were on the move once more, eventually heading for Kenya.
Since 1992, UNICEF has managed to reunite nearly 1,200 boys with their families. But approximately 17,000 remain in camps in the region. The harsh memories remain as well. As a 14-year-old survivor, Simon Majok put it: “We were suffering because of war. Some have been killed. Some have died because of hunger and disease. We children of the Sudan, we were not lucky.” The needs of these survivors is what inspired the South Sudan Aliab Education & Relief Fund (SSAERF) to be formed by an adult group of survivors with the assistance of the Episcopal Church Diocese in South Sudan with which they have partnered. SSAERF is a United States based tax exempt, 501(c)3 non-profit organization, dedicated to provide charitable services in the rural areas of South Sudan for the Aliab people through assistance programs that focus primarily on disease prevention, medical care, nutrition, education and provision of farm equipment to improve food crop production.