Lost boys, found men: From civil war in Sudan to the classrooms and convocation stage at Lethbridge College

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Part I: Introduction

It seems like a simple question: “So…how old were you when all of this started?”

But the answer is complex, much like the lives John Manyok and Samuel Mathon have led since being forced by violence to leave their villages in south Sudan in the late 1980s, fighting as child soldiers in a bloody civil war, and making their way to refugee camps, to Canada, and eventually to the convocation stage at Lethbridge College.

How old were they?

“To be honest, many of us, we don’t know our age,” says Manyok. “We were so young when we left. So I think I was nine or 10 at the time, but I don’t know for sure.”

“He left a year before I did,” adds Mathon. “I think I was about 10.”

Manyok and Mathon are two of an estimated 26,000 children – mostly boys – of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced or orphaned during the 22-year-long Second Sudanese Civil War. Called “The Lost Boys of the Sudan,” they travelled by foot for more than 1,000 kilometres through the bush and across the deserts, first to Ethiopia and then back to southern Sudan and on to Kenya, searching for safety. Just 10,000 boys are estimated to have survived the years-long threats of soldiers, wild animals, illness and starvation they endured during the conflict.

But Manyok and Mathon did survive. As they prepare to convocate from Lethbridge College, they look back at the remarkable journey that began with the abrupt ending of their childhoods in two small villages in south Sudan and brought them to this ceremony in a sunny Canadian city almost 30 years later.

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