Lost boys of Sudan receive support from local parishioner

By Elizabeth Brachelli
May 3, 2007

Sudarsan Raghavan/MCT

After facing malnutrition, starvation, diseases and losing families and friends, the lost boys of southern Sudan in Africa found a safe-haven in the home of Barbara Di Lucia. Di Lucia, a parishioner of Immanuel Leidy’s Church in Souderton, Pa., took the boys in after they escaped the attacks of the Arab-dominated Islamic government of the north.

Di Lucia discovered the story of the lost boys at her church which sponsored six of the lost boys and helped them adjust to the culture of the United States. The six boys were placed in an apartment near the church where parishioners donated clothes and their own time to educate them on the culture. The boys had to be taught how to cook, clean, turn on water and even flush the toilet.

Di Lucia said, “Everything was so new to them.”

Di Lucia became heavily involved in the lives of two boys. After being widowed at the age of 50 and being a registered nurse in intensive care units until her husband died, Di Lucia helped the boys recover from tuberculosis and internal parasites. Di Lucia explained that the boys got comfortable with her after driving back and forth from the Norristown hospital for treatments.

Di Lucia, “It was a direct blessing from God.”

The lost boys of Sudan refers to displaced or orphaned refugee boys who settled in the United States because of a civil war that lasted 21 years and claimed more than 2 million lives before ending in 2005. The lost boys came from southern Sudan, where they were survivors of the civil war that began in 1983. The war broke out between the Arab-dominated Islamic government of the north against the Christian and animist black African population of the south. Unsure of what to do, the boys of the Dinka and Nuer tribes headed to Ethiopia where the group topped 17,000.

The boys tried to survive by eating anything they could find such as mud to fill their stomachs. At times, they even drank their own urine. The boys were not able to find safety in Ethiopia and headed south with less than half the original number. Later, the boys made it to Kenya where they were placed in refugee camps for most of the 1990s. In 2000, the Unites States Department of State and the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees finalized an initiative to permanently resettle most of the remaining 4,000 lost boys throughout the U.S.

At times, Di Lucia explained the boys would watch the news in her house and see the ongoing war on T.V. Di Lucia explained the boys would say, “That’s the way it was while we were there.”

The boys explained some of the events that occurred during their time in Sudan to Di Lucia. The boys told her that there was no food and at times, kids were eaten by crocodiles since northern Muslims would chase children into the water to their deaths rather than use bullets to save ammunition. The kids would also drown since they couldn’t swim.

Despite the hardships the boys faced and the task of taking care of the boys, Di Lucia said, “I would never want to lose touch with these guys.”

Although Di Lucia has four children of her own and eight grandchildren, she invited one of the six lost boys to live with her since he wanted to go to college and couldn’t afford housing expenses. Also, Di Lucia assisted another one of the boys by introducing him to a priest at Villanova University. The priest was able to help one of the boys get into Villanova University. Yet, after getting into Villanova University, the boy left his clothes at Di Lucia’s house which often had him coming back to stay with her.

Di Lucia said the boys desperately wanted an education and she also explained that their parents were never educated.

Di Lucia said, “Education is their mother and father.”

The boys are now considered to be at the ages of 26 and 29. The boys are all given the same birthday by the Sudanese government, Jan. 1. Therefore, their ages are not really known. Also, the boys were part of the Dinka tribe, which is primarily Christians. One of the boys has completed his degree at Villanova University and is continuing his education by pursuing at masters degree at Carnegie Mellon University. The other boy received his associates degree and is continuing his education at Devry University.

Di Lucia witnessed the two boys become U.S. citizens on Apr. 4, at the Civic Center.

Di Lucia said, “They were grinning from ear to ear.”

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Elizabeth Brachelli

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