Editor’s note: This story won an award from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association and 2nd place 2011 Chandler Award for Student Religion Reporter of the Year.
The first time she met them, Barbara didn’t know they would become her “sons.” They were the orphans who trekked across East Africa. They were the “lost boys” of Sudan. Now they were living in her town.
She didn’t intend to take any of them into her home.“I prayed about it for quite some time, and because I’m a widow now and I live here by myself and to take in some strange kid from another country, you know especially some man, was kind of a daunting challenge,” she said.
Barbara Di Lucia met the Sudanese lost boys through her parish. She, along with other members of the church, agreed to sponsor six young men that had endured years of hardship in a place where war had taken their family, friends and childhood.
While many members signed up for primary responsibilities immediately, Barbara did not.
“Members of our church had decided to do certain things for these kids. They needed to learn so much when they came,” Barbara said.
It wasn’t until one volunteer, a busy mother in charge of an after-school carpool, asked Barbara if she could take over her shifts that required taking the lost boys to the health clinic for physicals. Barbara knew she had plenty of free time and gladly agreed.
She began taking them to their doctor appointments. “They all had intestinal parasites, just a lot of health problems,” Barbara said. “There were trips to Norristown so people in our church would drive them to the clinics. There was a lot of dental work that needed to be done also. A dentist in Philadelphia actually agreed to see the six boys,” Barbara said.
In early 2001, the lost boys of Sudan were recognized by United Nations Center of Refugees and other NGOs as orphaned children running from war. After seeking refuge in bordering countries, several thousand of the boys had psychological and health effects from the unimaginable journey traveled by foot that claimed the lives of half the original child wanderers.
It did not take long for Barbara to become more invested in the lost boys’ transition.
She started to visit them at their home, a two-bedroom apartment shared by all six of them.“I started to teach them how to cook. In their culture, the women do almost all the cooking so recipes and things like that had to be taught to them,” Barbara said.
The church volunteers all made efforts to get the young men acclimated to American home life by teaching them household disciplines like how to operate a stove, how to turn the shower faucets on and how and when to take out the trash.
While Barbara would visit them, she noticed how uncomfortable the living conditions were for the boys who, she thought, deserved much better.
Some of them were minors and because of that were under the jurisdiction of two sponsors–Barbara’s church, Immanuel Liedy’s Church in Souderton, and Lutheran Family Services. Those who were older than 18 would look for jobs but transportation proved to be difficult.
Barbara claims helping the young men get driver’s licenses was the most challenging obstacle for both the lost boys and the volunteers.“To teach them a turn signal…they didn’t know what it did in the front, in the back or why you had to put it on and what the other people wanted to know with that being on,” Barbara said.
Although it was difficult, Barbara and other volunteers helped them get driver’s licenses. In fact, that experience helped her get involved with a particular lost boy named David.
David, according to Barbara, worked very hard to get into the community college and was struggling to pass his courses.
She attributed his struggles to his living conditions and lack of privacy that was hindering his focus. Barbara, a proud mother and grandmother as well as a widow, knew she had room in her home.
She thought she could take David in. “I really felt in my heart that it was the right thing. So I told him if he wanted he could live at my house and that way he would be able to study without all of the interruption. So David started living at my house,” Barbara said.
And then came Philip.
Philip met with DiLucia’s cousin, a priest at Villanova University who helped Philip to apply to the school. Once enrolled at the university, Philip asked Barbara if he could keep his clothes at her house, so he wouldn’t have his things stolen from his apartment, as this had happened.
“So when Philip would come home from Villanova, his body followed his clothes and then the next thing you know he would end up living here too,” Barbara said.
Both lost boys remained at Barbara’s house for several years. The boys became a part of her family.
“They were such good role models for my own grand children because they would talk to them and they got to see and think about it themselves, what it would be like for this to happen to them,” Barbara said.
“The idea of being grateful for what you have and appreciating this country and compassion for others. There is nothing like having it right in your face.”
Both lost boys, now men, have bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Barbara keeps in touch with all of the six lost boys, David, Philip, Daniel, John, Sam and Abraham, whose stories of success in this country reinforce Barbara’s act of good will to take them into her own home.
“I’ll tell you, on all of the Sudanese boys that I’ve met, I haven’t met a stinker in the bunch,” Barbara said.
“These kids were more of a blessing to me, they really were. Because they just opened my eyes to a lot I’ve never seen or heard about before. These boys, they are my sons. I mean there is no denying it, they’re my sons,” she said.