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|"Committed to the reunification and living enhancement of the Lost Boys of Sudan who have made Nashville their home."|
THE PLIGHT OF THE LOST BOYS
About 15 years ago, the civil war in Sudan gained momentum. The war had raged on for some years, but around that time it escalated into full-blown genocide. The soldiers would indiscriminately destroy villages throughout the region. When they approached a village, the elders would get the boys who were old enough to run but not old enough to fight out of the village and of course they would flee as fast as possible. Some did not make it. The boys who were old enough to fight stayed behind to try and protect the village, the women and girls, the old people and the livestock. The soldiers would come into the villages and kill the men or force them into slavery, rape the women and girls and then sell them as sex slaves, burn the huts and kill the livestock. The boys who fled would eventually meet up with other boys from other villages who were on the run as well.
Eventually, these lost boys numbered over 20,000. They roamed the deserts of Sudan. Some died of starvation, some died of disease. Soldiers who came across the bands of boys put their dogs on them. They bombed them or shot them for target practice. No one would take them in or help them. Many of them tried to reach Ethiopia but were driven into the river where many drowned. Their numbers dwindled to somewhere around 10,000. Half were killed or died in just a few years. Bear in mind, these were boys between 4 and 15 years old.
After several years of wandering in the desert terrorized, starving, and dying, the U.N. set up a camp for them in Kenya. Some boys died of disease and some left the camp to go back and fight in the war. After 8 or 9 years in the camps, various American charity organizations brought the remaining 3600 Lost Boys to the U. S. Many of them had never worn shoes, never seen a TV or microwave. They knew nothing of modern culture. Charities paid their rents for three months and helped them get to communities around the country and helped them get work. After a 3 month period, they were left to struggle on their own. Some have fared pretty well, relatively speaking, some have not.
After hearing about the Lost Boys and seeing some of the hundred or so that were settled around Nashville, I decided to make a portrait series on the Lost Boys. The portraits have been a fascinating project, but the stories they've told and the tragedies they've endured has been the most wrenching aspect of this endeavor. They have transcended horrific obstacles but their spirits are incredibly strong. These people have a gentle demeanor that puzzles me. One would assume that the young men would be extremely bitter about their plight. They are wary on the surface, but then quick to smile and laugh. They are wonderful young men. You've likely seen one of them here and there in Nashville, bag boys at the grocery store, or on the street.
Last Saturday night, Pel Gai and Dourading Duop, two of the Lost Boys I made portraits of, went to a nightclub in south Nashville with about 20 other Sudanese. A young drunk African-American soldier started picking on Pel and knocked him down. Dourading stepped in to help Pel and was hit in the head with a beer bottle. The soldier then went to his car and got a knife, came back and stabbed Pel twice, Dourading once. Pel died at Vanderbilt Hospital on Sunday morning and Dourading is finally in stable condition but will be in the hospital for some time.
Pel Gai was 21 years old. He was a very bright, gentle, and industrious kid. The irony of his death confounds me. They have seen such terror, grief, loss, sadness and horror only to come to our Land of Opportunity, and then senselessly murdered by an African- American soldier where they thought at last they would be safe. Four of the boys sent to Nashville have been killed in the few years they have been here.
A foundation has been set up called The Lost Boys Foundation. There are no funds in this foundation. There is no money to bury Pel. The Lost Boys have taken up a collection among themselves but have only been able to get about half of the $5700 needed. There is no safety net for these young men. If they get sick or in trouble, there is no one to help them.
I am trying, with the help of a few others, to raise awareness in the media and around our community about the plight of these Lost Boys. We hope to have a benefit concert and art exhibition in the near future to fund their foundation. This will require help from many sources. If you can help in any way, it will be greatly appreciated. The world seems to be totally upside down these days. This is a very worthy endeavor, I assure you. Perhaps we can make something right in our part of the world, instead of watching it continue on its senseless path.
- Jack Spencer, September 2004
--Founder, the Lost Boys Foundation of Nashville
P. O. Box 121917 - Nashville, TN 37212 - (615) 256-8302