The Lost Boys


Did any of you happen to watch 60 Minutes on Sunday? If so, you would have seen the incredible follow-up story Bob Simon did on The Lost Boys of Sudan. He first reported on them 12 years ago, after civil war forced thousands of boys out of their villages in southern Sudan, marching on foot thousands of miles over the course of three months before making their way to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. The 12 thousand Lost Boys stayed there for four years, before a civil war in that country forced them out again, this time to Kenya. They arrived in 1992 and spent years in the Kakuma refugee camp, until in 2000, the United States government began one of the largest resettlement efforts in our history: bringing thousands of Lost Boys to America.

Here is the original 60 Minutes segment from 2000:

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A non-profit based in Boston, Refuge Point, worked with the Lost Boys before their arrival in America to prepare them for what their new life would be like. These were boys who had never seen running water, a television, or even forks and knives. Snow. Currency. Elevators. They were frozen in time, and deserved a new start, a new life. Several thousand were brought to the states, and relocated to places like Atlanta, Kansas City, Florida. They were given only a few months to find jobs and pay for their new apartments, and also (sickeningly) pay back the US government for their flight out of Kenya.

Heartbreakingly, after the attacks on 9/11, the resettlement planes stopped taking the boys, now men, out of Kakuma, leaving thousands of Lost Boys behind in Kenya. My heart breaks for those left behind.

Twelve years passed and this past Sunday 60 Minutes followed up with the boys they’d first met in the refugee camp all those years ago, to see how their lives had changed since living in the US. One of the Lost Boys, Abraham Yel, had become an Episcopalian bishop, married a Kenyan woman, had a few children, and now splits his time between Atlanta and Kenya. Daw Dekon joined the military after 9/11 and went to Iraq to fight, on three tours. Another, Joseph Taban Rufino, had always dreamed of becoming a doctor, had even worked in Kakuma as a medical assistant, helping his fellow refugees. Instead, he’s been laid off from several menial jobs, had his car and all of his ID paperwork stolen, and even been stabbed.

Here is the segment that aired on Sunday. Please watch to the end:

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Bob Simon: Do you feel like you’ve been successful in America?

Joseph Taban Rufino: Not at all. My main aim was to go to the school in order to be what I’ve said, to be a doctor. But things fall apart.

I’m not a religious person. I’ve never attended church or synagogue services. But the stories of these men did something to me on Sunday night that I’ve never experienced before, and I’m equating it to the closest I’ll get to a feeling of divine intervention. That Joseph doesn’t consider himself successful because he hasn’t become a doctor was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever heard. I’m embarrassed and ashamed that it took me 26 years to fully realize the plight of African refugees, or that it took a television program to open my eyes. My parents took me every Christmas to shop for toys to give to the Red Cross for children who didn’t have Christmas presents, I’m on my company’s philanthropy committee, I support animal rescue groups, I’ve donated to end dolphin slaughter in Japan. But this, these Lost Boys, it felt bigger, like a calling. All I knew is that I needed to help.

The piece ended with Joseph Taban being “reunited” via Skype with his mother, Perina, whom he had believed to be dead since they fled their village in southern Sudan in the late 80s. Joseph went to his mentor’s house, donned his best suit, and video chatted with the mother he hadn’t seen or talked to since he was a boy. The minute the segment was over, I sent an email to a CBS Producer, asking for any information on how to help Joseph. I cried a lot that night, over the idea that someone could go through as much as these Lost Boys have gone through while simultaneously I’ve never had to struggle for anything.

I received an email back from a 60 Minutes producer with the contact information for Joseph’s mentor in Kansas City, a business man name Joey McLiney (he’s seen in the second segment teaching Joseph how to drive a car…one of the few lighthearted moments of the whole piece). I instantly got in touch with both Joey McLiney and Refuge Point, and in the interim a donation collection had been set up to help Joseph travel to Uganda, where his mother took refuge, to see her in person again. A goal of $10,000 was set, and over $6,000 was raised in a single day. The goal was re-set to $20,000, and as of this post, 109 strangers (myself included) have donated over $10,185 to help Joseph. I donated. I’m encouraging you to consider donating, too.

I’ve been in almost daily contact with Joey McLiney, Joseph’s mentor, about how to help. The problem, he said, isn’t just a financial one: when Joseph’s car was stolen, so were all of his ID documents, “and he has not had time to fill out the appropriate documents to get all of his documentation. That process is painfully time consuming and onerous.” Because he has no ID, Joseph also can’t cash checks right now, so strictly financial donations are stuck in limbo. Joey McLiney gave me his address, so I could send Joseph gift cards, books, clothing, a laptop, anything I can to help. If I could pay for him to go to medical school, I would. I’m hoping a doctor in the Kansas City area saw the program and gives Joseph a chance at fulfilling his dreams. Mr. McLiney said that if you’re at all skeptical about donating to the GoFundMe site, that we can send donations directly to him. If you want to help, too, get in touch with me and I’ll be more than happy to send you his mentor’s address.

I’ve also been in touch with two women, Cheryl and Victoria, at Refuge Point and will hopefully be able to meet with them in New York soon to see what opportunities there are to help in that respect. My company’s philanthropy committee would be taking on our biggest effort yet, but I know it would also be the most rewarding. They help not just lost boys, but lost girls and women of wartorn Africa. They offer shelter, resettlement, food, safety, and have worked with those in need in Botswana, Burundi, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Here’s how to donate to Refuge Point.

Here is a video they sent me, to raise awareness of the oft-forgotten Lost Girls of Sudan. Aluel’s story should be shared as much as possible:

Fundamentally, something has changed inside of me. I’m not saying I’m never going to post a round-up of new things I want to buy, but already my materialistic leanings have been curbed with the simple realization that someone needs this money more than me. I was completely moved by their stories, and I want to do whatever I can to help. It’s as simple as that. I’d love to harness the power of social media and get all of you who read this on board with sending Joseph a small gift, or making a donation to Refuge Point, or simply spreading the word in the hopes that we can make the life of someone in need better. If you could watch either of those segments without tearing up, then you’re a stronger soul than me. I couldn’t. I need to help.

8 thoughts on “The Lost Boys

  1. Erin, this story is so compelling. Theirs and yours. Several years ago, at Callum’s old school, several of the Lost Boys came to speak. By the time they came to us theirs was a story of hope and optimism. And resilience. Reading Joseph’s story is so heartbreaking. It’s simply mind boggling to me that someone who has suffered so much *big* stuff can now get bogged down in the fighting of the minutiae of all of the little stuff. And the little stuff is not so little. It must seem insurmountable.

    I hope Joseph’s is still a story of resilience. I’m so moved that you are doing what you can to make it so. I’ll do what I can too, my dear. Thank you.

  2. when i was in college i volunteered at oregon’s immigrant and refugee organization for a couple years. there’s so many heartbreaking stories in the world. from asia to africa from eastern europe and central/south america. there are just so many issues a refugee must face once they have “salvation” it’s overwhelming. fortunately every city has an organization like that and every immigrant or refugee that entered legally is required to touch base with them and those that came without government knowledge or assistant can use their services too (like job skills, esl, work training). these places are really fundamental but they are non-profit, and non-profits never have enough to do the amount of work they need to do.

    in college i took so many sociology classes and immigrant lit classes, it really affected me and why/how i ended up going into social services as a career. but after awhile my heart couldn’t take it anymore, because, yes, like you i totally tear up, i feel personally responsible, i feel overwhelmed with grief for what people go through, i feel guilty for every complaining about anything. ever. i laid in my bed and cried for like 4 hours after watching a documentary on women in africa who suffer from fistulas. i think what you are doing is wonderful. i hope that he is able to fulfill his dream of med school! he has such a gentle spirit i think he’d make a great doctor.

    now i try to pick an organization or two to donate every year – there’s so many. someday i definitely hope to have the means to do more. and really it’s pretty remarkable how well some of these men have done. it really is. xo

  3. Such a powerful story – all that hope and optimism in such adverse situations.
    A year or so ago I was lucky to sit in on a talk at a marketing seminar being given by Sir Bob Geldof and he focused as you’d expect on his greatest achievement – Band Aid. Now we are talking nearly 30 years ago that he started the campaign yet he spoke for an hour about it, with such power and steely resolve, as if it was just being launched there and then (of course he is still now heavily involved in African poverty efforts). He was the most inspiring and passionate yet un-celebrity like person I have ever had the opportunity to experience. It’s something I will never, never ever forget, completely humbling and just amazing that this one person can decide they were going to make it happen and mobilise everyone and everything to make it happen.
    I donate a couple of times a year to national and international charities such as, Comic Relief, Crisis and others.
    How wonderful that you are doing your bit to raise awareness, you are a lovely soul :-) I shall follow suit and go support them too. Thanks for sharing xx

  4. It’s so heartbreaking and sad, there is a great book written by Dave Eggers, who is very actively helping this cause, called What is The What. It tells the story of one of the boys, his struggle in Africa and in America too. I mainly focus on cancer charities having lost friends but I think I will join you here. x

  5. Nope, I wasn’t able to get through either of these segments without crying. I’ve been struggling and feeling torn about the amount of time I spend on frivolous activities. I understand that we need creative outlets, but I keep wondering if that time would be better spent on a worthy cause. Then, I visit here and discover that you’ve been moved by the story of The Lost Boys enough to immediately take action, and inspire us to take action. (It was as if you were reading my mind, though I know that’s silly of me to think.) Thank you for bringing this cause to our attention. You can rest assured I will do what I can to help. xo

  6. The 60 minutes program on Central Asia Institute is what motivated my co-founder to start the nonprofit that we have been working on for almost two years. It’s easy to get caught up in the media frenzy around a cause and then just as quickly forget about it because you don’t see it splashed all over the news anymore. Thoughtful philanthropy is the goal and I wish more people were like you, taking the time out of their day to find out more about something they want to support and how to help people in need

  7. hi erin,

    i had the same reaction when i saw the 60 minutes program. i had just finished reading “what is the what”, so i was (newly) aware of just what had happened to these boys (now men). when it got to the part about joseph, i found myself sobbing uncontrollably. even when i think about it now, the tears come. i have donated to the fund and am sending out the info/link to family and friends. i would like to send a gift card and maybe a letter to joseph telling him how much i admire his courage, determination and perseverance. i, too, feel “changed” in a way…

    thanks for sharing,

  8. I just saw the last part of this program tonight. I guess it was a rerun. I wonder how Joseph is doing? I’m sure that he would help a lot of people if were able to become a doctor. I’d love to see a happy ending to this story.

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