SNELLVILLE - Three Sudanese immigrants told their personal tales of civil war, struggling to stay alive during it and hope Tuesday while speaking to Shiloh High School's Multicultural Student Association.
Part of a group called the Lost Boys that came to America in 2001, the men told the 52-member organization about how they made their long journey to America and how that journey has inspired them to succeed and not take certain things in life for granted.
For Stephen Bayok, Moses Poundak and Majok Marier, all under the age of 31, their saga of coming to America began in 1983 when civil war broke out in their native Sudan between Muslims from the north and Christians from the south. For nearly one hour, Bayok described scenes of government soldiers and helicopters destroying his village in 1987 while he was tending goats and cattle outside it. When he returned, he saw dead bodies burning in their destroyed houses and nothing left of the village he called home.
Not knowing where to go, he then began a journey with other boys to the border of Ethiopia, where he lived in a refugee camp until 1991. Along the way, he spoke of a desert where the temperature reached 130 degrees and of not knowing when he'd reach a place where he might get another swallow of water.
Bayok spoke of animals trying to eat them at night, and the strategies they employed to ward the beasts off. He also spoke of the many boys and girls who died along the way, either by starvation or dehydration.
And then in 1991, another civil war broke out in Ethiopia and the boys had to do it all over again, this time on a march to Kenya, where they lived in another refugee camp until 2000. When it was all said and done, the three had spent nearly 13 years living as refugees.
In December of 2000, the United States brought its first Sudanese refugee from that Kenyan camp to America. And then in 2001, Bayok, Poundak and Marier followed, landing in Atlanta. Since then, the three men have often times worked two jobs - "to keep a roof over the head," Bayok said, - while attending high school and now college. At the speech's conclusion, they stressed to the students the importance of education.
"You can achieve," Bayok said. "Make use of your talents."
"To be able to go to school is my favorite thing in America," Poundak said afterward.
By the silence during the speech and the applause at the end of it, the talk appeared to resonate with everyone in attendance.
"I was so honored to learn about what they've gone through," said the association's president, senior Sandra Nwamuo. "It makes me want to learn about other issues in Africa to see what I can do to help."
For senior Chibueza Ihenacho, it reminded him of what his own parents had gone through in making their way to America from Nigeria.
"It re-inspires me to want to give back and reaffirms my belief that we should be very grateful for what we have," Ihenacho said. "We have so much here."