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Sudanese civil war survivors attend rally in support of home

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A UMNS Web-only photo by Jill King

Angelo Maker (left) and other Lost Boys of Sudan gather in front of the U.S. Capitol during a Save Darfur rally on April 30.

May 2, 2006

By Mark Schoeff Jr.*

WASHINGTON (UMNS) — On a magnificent, sunny spring day, Angelo Maker embarked on a journey down the National Mall that was only a fraction as harrowing as the one he undertook nearly 20 years ago in Sudan.

But he approached his trek through the Save Darfur rally on April 30 with the same kind of determination that helped him survive wild animals and marauding militias in 1987, when he escaped a civil war.

Maker and four other Sudanese men in their 20s wound their way around and over a crowd of between 15,000 and 20,000 to the foot of the rally's stage. They were decked out in the suits and ties they had worn to a service earlier in the day at Crossroads United Methodist Church in Ashburn, Va.

As rap mogul Russell Simmons, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and movie star George Clooney, among other headliners, exhorted the crowd to make their voices heard at the White House, Maker and his friends as well as volunteers from Crossroads quietly and persistently promoted a July event designed to help heal Sudan.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS Web-only photo by Jill King

Comedian Chris Rock (right) and his wife, Malaak Compton-Rock, look at a flyer handed to them by Angelo Maker (left).

The group handed out fliers for a July 7-8 conference at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., "Lost Boys: Found!" (www.lostboysgathering.org). The five Virginia Lost Boys want to bring together many of their 3,700 lost brethren who were relocated to the United States at the beginning of the decade.

The event, which is funded in part by a $5,000 grant Crossroads received from the United Methodist Church's Board of Church and Society, will focus on raising awareness about tragedies in Sudan and developing strategies for the Lost Boys to return and rebuild their country.

During their walk down the Mall, the Lost Boys, who were operating on little sleep after traveling to Washington from Norfolk and Richmond early that morning, raised the profile of their cause.

Maker flagged down Manute Bol, a former National Basketball Association star and a Lost Boy himself, from behind the stage. With the help of Jill King, a member of Crossroads United Methodist Church, Maker managed to enter the VIP seating area and talk to Gayle King, a prominent friend of TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey's and a possible conduit to her show. That meeting occurred two chairs down from where comedian Chris Rock was sitting.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS Web-only photo by Jill King

Manute Bol, a former National Basketball Association star, meets with fellow Lost Boy Angelo Maker.

Later, Maker worked his way backstage and found Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, the official government representative of southern Sudan. Gatkuoth could be influential in improving infrastructure in the region, a main theme of the July conference.

Following the rally, Maker conducted several television interviews. "He's so good at grabbing people and talking to them," King said. "He's a man on a mission."

Dangerous journey

Maker's drive as a child was simply to survive. In 1987, he and thousands of other boys witnessed the slaughter of family members as Sudanese government forces attacked their southern Sudan villages during the country's second civil war, which began in 1983.

Maker lost his mother and two brothers. An estimated 2 million people were killed and between 3 million and 4 million displaced during the conflict between the Arab north, where the government is based, and the non-Arab south. The Lost Boys, who were between 5 and 9 years old at the time, fled by walking thousands of miles to refugee camps in Ethiopia.

Later, after the Ethiopian government fell in its own civil war, the boys returned to a camp in Sudan. They were driven out again when militias supported by the Sudanese government attacked. The boys finally made their way to Kenya. Over the course of their journeys, thousands died at the hands of troops, in the claws of wild animals or at the whim of nature — by drowning in rivers, for example. In 2001, the U.S. government settled about 3,700 Lost Boys in 38 cities across the country.

Now, Maker and his friends are working, going to college and bearing witness to continuing tragedies in Sudan. The latest humanitarian crisis is occurring in Darfur in western Sudan, where an estimated 300,000 have been killed by Janjaweed militias backed by the Sudanese government. Although the south established a peace agreement with the north in 2005, the situation is precarious. Advocates at the Washington rally called on the United States to apply more diplomatic and political muscle to end the conflict in Darfur.

Wanting to do more

The gathering touched the young men from Sudan. "What they're doing, it's not for me or the Sudanese people, it's for the whole world," said Maker, who attends Old Dominion University in Norfolk. "I feel support, and I feel joy. It gives me some courage. I want to do more."

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS Web-only photo by Jill King

Mark Harrison (right), director of the Board of Church and Society's Peace with Justice program, meets with Angelo Maker (center) and William Mayom on the National Mall.

For Abraham Deng, standing in front of the glistening U.S. Capitol was a sharp contrast to the nightmare he endured in Sudan. "What I see today is a dream to me," he said. "All of these people really care about Sudan. It makes me feel like I found a new home in the United States."

The Lost Boys who live in Virginia want to bring their fellow travelers together in July to help mend their country. For William Mayom, a biology major at Old Dominion who lost his father in the civil war, that means returning to Sudan after finishing medical school. He wants to help suffering children. "They die every year of simple diseases," he said.

The fact that the Lost Boys are experiencing economic, religious and political freedom in the United States gives them a model for rebuilding Sudan, according to Cathy Norman, the wife of Crossroads senior minister David Norman.

"It'll take this conference for people to see that systematic change in Sudan is going to come through leadership that has experienced freedom and democracy," said Norman, who established Crossroads' Sudan mission group after a trip to Africa in 2004. "That's how dictatorships and oppressive regimes will be upended."

*Schoeff is a freelance writer in the Washington D.C. area and is a staff writer at Workforce Management magazine.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 
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Resources
Lost Boys: Found!
Crossroads United Methodist Church
UMCOR: Sudan
Million Voices for Darfur