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Monday, March 10, 2014

Sudanese ‘Lost Boy’ Returns To Search For Family

Burned down houses in the backyard of Malakal Teaching Hospital on March 4, 2014, in Malakal, South Sudan. (Andrei Pungovschi/AFP/Getty Images)

Burned down houses in the backyard of Malakal Teaching Hospital on March 4, 2014, in Malakal, South Sudan. (Andrei Pungovschi/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power took time from the Ukraine crisis on Friday to speak to the U.N. Security Council about another critical issue: children in armed conflict.

Power talked about South Sudan, mentioning specifically Mangok Bol, a program administrator at Brandeis University.

Mangok Bol, pictured here at Brandeis University, returned to his native Sudan to find his orphaned nieces and nephew. (Mike Lovett/Brandies University)

Mangok Bol, pictured here at Brandeis University, returned to his native Sudan to find his orphaned nieces and nephew. (Mike Lovett/Brandeis University)

“Our hearts go out to Mangok Bol, a former ‘Lost Boy,’ now living in Boston, who has returned to his home village in South Sudan to try to find his nieces and nephews who’ve been abducted by militants from a competing ethnic group,” she told the council.

Many of Bol’s family members were killed in the earlier civil war. He was in refugee camps in Africa for years before making his way to the U.S. as one of the so called “Lost Boys” of Sudan.

He worked his way through college and now works as administrator for Brandeis’s international and global studies program. But when he discovered that his brother and sister-in-law had been killed and their four children kidnapped, Bol made his way back to South Sudan to find his family.

“When I came here two weeks ago, I was mourning of course,” Bol told Here & Now‘s Robin Young from the offices of the International Organization for Migration in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. “The only thing I was left with was to locate and find [my brother's] children, if they are at all alive. I think it will be the most honorable thing I will do to him is to find his kids alive, and raise them myself.”

Bol says it isn’t clear whether the children were abducted as a result of the civil war, or an older practice of rival tribes abducting children to raise as their own.

“This same practice is common,” Bol said. “In the past, when I was a little boy, what we used to know is that they would come, take children and not kill the parents.”

But Bol says he knows he is in a desperate position and that he is putting himself in danger, but he remains hopeful.

“My life is not equal to the life of these four children,” Bol said. “I’m optimistic that these children will be found.”

Guest

  • Mangok Bol, former Sudanese ‘Lost Boy’ and program administrator at Brandeis University. He tweets @Mangokb.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

This is HERE AND NOW. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power took time from the Ukraine crisis on Friday to speak to the U.N. Security Council about another critical issue: children in armed conflict. And in her speech, she talked about South Sudan and Mangok Bol. Now, his story is incredible. We first heard about it from his friend Sasha Chanoff, founder of the refugee relief group Refuge Point.

Many of Mangok's family members were killed in the earlier civil war. He walked across Africa for years, staying in refugee camps, before making his way to the U.S. as one of the so-called lost boys of Sudan. He then worked his way through college. He now works at Brandeis University.

But when he discovered that his brother and sister-in-law had recently been killed and their four children kidnapped, Mangok Bol made his way back to South Sudan. We spoke with him by Skype from the offices of the International Organization for Migration in the capital of South Sudan, Juba. I asked Mangok what it was like to get this news that his brother had been killed, his nieces and nephews taken, a kind of replay of his own childhood.

MANGOK BOL: Well, first of all, I mean I haven't seen this brother of mine for 27 years. So I left the village, the same village that was attacked, in 1987. In December last year, that was the only time I planned to come back to South Sudan, and I did. So after I realized that the country was not safe, I went back to the United States and then after three weeks, the incident happened, that when my village was attacked, and I had no choice but to come back and console the members of my family who were grieving, including my mother, who was also longing to see me and who saw me here in Juba when I came here two weeks ago.

YOUNG: So Mangok, are you saying that you came in December to reconnect with your brother, who you haven't seen in years, but couldn't because of the crisis, and now...

BOL: Exactly.

YOUNG: And now he's gone.

BOL: Now he's gone, and in fact I spoke with him on December 18, and he was the one who told me that it was not safe for me to come to the village. So I listened to his advice and went back to the United States. But unfortunately when I heard about these killings, it was devastating, not only his killing but also the abduction of his four children.

So it was so devastating, the most, the pain that I have never been through in the entire life I've lived. That was the most toughest moment for me.

YOUNG: That is saying quite a lot, Mangok, considering what you've been through. And yet this - these are your nieces and nephews. How old are they? Who are they?

BOL: They were ranging from two to eight. The oldest was eight years old. My brother actually, with his wife, had seven. Four of the kids are gone. And three are now with us, my sister and my mom.

YOUNG: So we know you came from the U.S. to find these kids, but it's - the phrase has been used it's like a needle in a haystack. What are you going to do?

BOL: And that's the question I had in mind. I mean, when I came here two weeks ago, one thing was I was mourning, of course. But my brother is gone and he will never come back. And his wife, they are gone.

The only things I'm left with was to locate and find these kids, these children, and bring them back, if they are at all alive. I think it will the most honorable thing I would do to him, to find these kids alive and bring them and raise them myself.

YOUNG: Do you know why they were taken? Do you know if this was part of the ongoing conflict there or part of this other narrative, this idea that tribes with lower fertility rates go out and steal children from other tribes? Do you know why they were taken?

BOL: This same practice is really common, I mean it's not new. I mean, in the past, when we were little boys, when we used to know was that they would come and take children and not kill the parent. These days the parent will be killed, and the reason why this is done is that if these parents are dead, they take children as their own, and they raise them.

Sometimes only children know that their parents are dead. They have nothing to come back to, you know?

YOUNG: Well, that's what we hear. I mean, it's horrifying. But we hear that what happens is that these children are stolen, their parents murdered, and then as you said, the children have nothing to go back to, and their memories are wiped away. They don't ultimately even remember their parents.

BOL: Yeah, and that's really devastating, and that's what killed me inside, you know, I just - I've been sitting helplessly, you know, sitting here and knowing that my brother and his wife are gone, and these children are somewhere. Somebody is owning them as their own. That is the most painful thing anyone could go through.

But, you know, I have people by me. My employer, Brandeis University, the Brandeis community has given me a hope of trying to find these children. But the chances are, it's 50-50.

YOUNG: You said 50-50. You know, others are less optimistic. Do you have any sense of what you might do? Might you offer money for them? I mean, do you have any sense of how you might do this?

BOL: It is an option. I mean, it's an option, but I don't want to sound on this show as, I mean creating a scenario like that, where you give money to somebody that would do this for you may create unforeseen commercial-motivated market for these people. I mean if they know there is an incentive that exists out there, they will do it.

But at a personal level, yes, I will do anything to locate these children. I mean, it's just I'm in desperate condition at this moment. If there's anything that I can do to get them back, I would do it.

YOUNG: Now, you know, of course you know you're risking your life.

BOL: Yes. My life is not as important as the lives of these four children. I mean, I can't just live and know that these four innocent, four innocent children are somewhere. You know, that's what is really bothering me. Sometimes I think and think and think and not come to the conclusion what really I will do. I'm optimistic that these children will be found, and if not, then the discussion should open too that killing parents and taking their children and raising them as your own is the worst crime a human being can commit.

I'm really in a position to bring that discussion to the broader level.

YOUNG: A lost boy trying to make people aware of stolen children. Mangok Bol in Juba in South Sudan, looking for his nieces and nephews, who have been abducted, best of luck to you.

BOL: Thank you very much for doing this, and I really appreciate the effort of NPR to get - getting this message to your audience.

YOUNG: Best to you. Thank you.

BOL: My pleasure.

YOUNG: We'll link you to more information at hereandnow.org. And again, apologies for the Skype sound from Sudan, but a story worth listening to closely. And you're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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