By Tywanna Sparks,
Irwin Army Community Hospital, Public Affairs Office
“Lost Boys” of Sudan Sgt. Daw Dekon, Warrior Transition Battalion wounded warrior, and Capt. Gabriel Deng, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Infantry Division shared their story of hope and survival during a spiritual resiliency event March 11.
The audience at the WTB Clamshell sat quietly as Dekon, Deng and fellow “Lost Boys” offered first-hand accounts of the genocide and civil war that drove an estimated 20,000 youth from their families and villages in southern Sudan during the late 1980’s.
“We are here today to share our story,” Dekon said. “Each of us has a past. You have to have a past to be able to achieve a future. Our story is not unique and there are similar stories around the world.”
At age 9 Dekon was separated from his family when civil war broke out. To escape death or induction into the northern army, Dekon along with thousands of boys from across southern Sudan fled in large groups to refugee camps in Ethiopia. Many died along the way due to disease, enemy attacks, wild animals and starvation.
“We didn’t have mothers or fathers, no shoes and no clothes,” said featured guest Biem Akol. “There was no one there to take care of us, only ourselves. All we had was hope, determination and faith in God.”
Although faced with hardships no child should experience, “giving up was not an option,” Dekon said. “The choices we made as young men brought us here today. As long as we are alive we don’t give up and we continue to push.”
And they continued to push through more obstacles once they arrived in Ethiopia.
“The local people were not friendly to us and they put us in an isolated area,” Deng said. “Disease came into our camps that took our fellow brothers away from us. We could no longer bury the dead and we had to take bodies to the bush.”
After four years in Ethiopia, civil war forced them to flee back to Sudan. Many died on that journey especially when crossing the Gilo River. Those unable to swim were swept away in turbulent currents. Others were taken by enemy fire or crocodiles.
Walking more than a thousand miles, half of them died before reaching Kenya to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in 1992.
In 2001, nearly 4,000 “Lost Boys” came to the United States seeking peace, freedom and education.
Dekon and Deng settled in Kansas City, Mo. Dekon joined the U.S. Army in 2005, trained as a linguist and deployed to Iraq three times. Deng earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas City Missouri in 2009 and commissioned in the U.S. Army after graduation.
Biel also settled in Kansas City, Mo, and married. He also earned a bachelor’s degree. “I thank God for being in America today,” Biel said. “Because of God, we made it. Because of our hope, determination and faith we made it.”