Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Lost Boy Goes Home

Abe Bol, 2008
He was young, just three, when Abraham Bol's life was thrown into chaos. His village in Sudan was attacked. His parents were killed and he fled with others across the desert, facing constant hunger and hardships. Much of the way he was carried on the back of a stranger. Reaching a refugee camp in Ethiopia three months later, he was unexpectedly reunited with his older brother.

But four years later violence broke out in Ethiopia, and young Abe found himself making another trek, one that lasted 18 months and ended in Kenya. He was not alone. Abe was one of the 25,000 Lost Boys of the Sudan, ages 7 to 18, in search of a place of safety in the midst of the violence that was rife in East Africa. Thousands of boys died from starvation, exposure, disease and attack. Abe survived. When he finally arrived at the camp in Kenya, he had another surprise -- he found his older sister and younger brother, whom he hadn't seen for eight years!

In 2001, about 4000 of these Lost Boys were resettled to the United States. Some three hundred of them, including Abe, came to Washington State. He was 16.

Within two years Abe had passed his High School Proficiency Exam and become a certified nursing assistant. By 2008 he had graduated from Seattle Pacific University with a B.A. in Political Science, International Relations and a minor in Geopolitics.

Among his many activities during his first several years in Seattle, the SPU website includes these: "working as an interpreter for the King County Municipal Court, serving as an intern in the Executive Office of the Mayor on African Affairs in Washington, D.C., interning at the World Affairs Council in Seattle, and working as a certified nursing assistant at Providence Hospital in Issaquah."  He also "served as a refugee assistant volunteer for the United States Catholic Conference in Seattle and as a service volunteer at Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in Medina. He started the African Connect Student Union on campus at SPU and coordinated World Relief's Refugee Project, an immersion into the experiences and challenges faced by refugees as they enter America." And he participated in Urban Plunge in 2002, where students spend five days on the streets of Seattle to experience homelessness for themselves.

Abe, right, with two of his Sudanese friends
Abe is a gentle man with a giving heart. He was loved by his fellow students as well as the faculty and staff who worked with him. They recognized his initiative, his perseverance, and his generous spirit. "He's the most unselfish person I have ever known," said Karen Altus, his career counselor at SPU.

I've gotten to know Abe a bit over the years. In 2008 he and his friend Michael came to lunch, along with some other interesting guests -- Sam from New Jersey, Min from Taiwan, Brian the violinist, and Townie, the former director of International Students at SPU. It was a delightful afternoon. The photo above is of Abe watching as his friend Michael took a turn at playing the violin!

In 2009 he went to graduate school at DePaul University in Chicago, where he earned a Master of Science in International Pubic Service and Development.

Abe has been back to Africa twice since coming to the US, but not since South Sudan became an independent country in 2011. That's where he will be going in March. There's a job waiting for him at SUDD, a public policy institute in the city of Juba. He is also looking forward to being near his sister and her children, his younger brother and his aunt.

Since his early days in Seattle it has been his dream to offer literacy training to women in Sudan. That dream is looking like it just might come true!

When we met for coffee the other day I commented that his life has been difficult. "In spite of the difficulty," he told me, "I still consider myself lucky. I can give back. Lots of people need help, and I can help!"

Click here to read more about Abe, and here to learn more about the Lost Boys of the Sudan. Here is a lengthy but very interesting article in the NY Times written in 2001 about some young men recently come to the US.

1 comment:

Joan Husby said...

What an inspiring story! Abe's story should be required reading in every high school in the land.