South Sudan

The Lost Boys of Sudan – lost again

Can you imagine seeing your best friend eaten alive only feet away from where you stand? I don’t know that I can, but the man sitting beside me is telling me how this happened to him, and that is only a small part of his amazing story.

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Adier Dor - 28
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Arzen Garn - 23
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Deng Geng - 24
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Gok Deng - 23: "Our names and case was made missing. We don't know what really happened. We want somebody to check through our files. We were waiting for deaths but keep eating something."
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Jacob Racch - 33: “I dont know my age when we ran from Sudan. When I was younger I was a runner, but that is long ago. We're all disturbed now, distressed. We've no place, no Sudan, no future, no parents. I have nothing more to tell you"
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John Garange - 34
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John Maccine and family - 47: “I don't know my age when i arrived in Kakuma in 1992. I went to school here. Many of our friend got resettlement but in 2008 they closed our case and told us to go back to South Sudan. We refused because we don't have parents there and it was not safe. In 2010 the UNHCR told us to wait that they will look into our case in 2011. They was nothing years after years of waiting."
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Kout Attak and family - 30: “I fled Sudan to Ethiopia in 1988, it was better there. The journey full of horror. I returned to Pachala and there was no peace. With the fighting I ran to Kakuma. I was in the group to be resettled to United States but was cut out. I was waiting since they promised me to wait, living with no direction, no hope in life."
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The lost boys of Sudan
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Nyajib Nyial - 24 and her family
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Peter Ubach - 29: “I was with the Lost Boys that ran to Ethiopia in 1987 returned back to South Sudan in 1991 at Pachala, I was with my uncle but he died so I joined other boys at Kakuma. I did the Joint Voluntary Agency (JVA) and was on waiting list to be relocated to United States but was cut in September 11, 2001 without any decision on my file. As long as I live, the troubles still recall in my mind, I have no home, no hope!"
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Rebecca Abany - 34
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Santino Deng - 25: “I run from South Sudan when our villages were bombed in Rumbek in 1993. I am the only survivor in my family. I arrived in 1997 and got registered as a minor at Kakuma. I am still here and have no place to
call home."
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Taban Malwei - 39: “Life was close to death when I fled from my village. We went to Ethiopia and back to South Sudan, then we came to Kakuma. I was promised resettlement to the US but nothing has happened. Our life in Kakuma was full of waiting but waiting for nothing to come. We are just left behind and forgotten."
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Victor Garang - 36: “We can't make any changes to happen in our lives, we depend on other human beings"

The original Lost Boys of Sudan were some 25,000 mainly boys who fled their villages in South Sudan when government troops from the north systematically attacked their villages in the late 1980's during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005 with an estimated 2.5 million deaths). It is estimated as many as a third of them died due to starvation and dehydration, or at the hands of wild animals or enemy soldiers. Their epic journey over thousands of kilometres and three countries “ended” in 1992 when approximately 16,000 of them became the initial inhabitants of the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. They were given the Lost Boys of Sudan tag by the aid workers setting up the camp in reference to Peter Pan's Lost Boys.

I personally first became aware of the Lost Boys of Sudan via David Eggers book What is the What, which tells the story of Lost Boy Valentino Achak Deng, his journey through Sudan, Ethiopia, back into Sudan and finally to Kenya and Kakuma Camp before being repatriated to the United States. Then early last year I was commissioned to do a series of portrait photographs of the locals of the St Mary's district, in Sydney, Australia. In the course of this project I discovered that St Mary's had a significant South Sudanese refugee population.

How I came from being in St Marys, Australia to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya is a story unto itself, one that in all likely hood should not have eventuated, but needless to say it did.

And thus I found myself, sitting in Kakuma looking into the faces of a group of original Lost Boys. I say original because the Sudanese conflict has been an ongoing issue, and even as I type this more Sudanese refugees flood into Kakuma. But these men were the original Lost Boys of Sudan who arrived here in August of 1992. They have been in Kakuma for 27 years now.

Here is where words become insufficient. Sitting down and talking to these men was both a difficult and most astounding experience. Hearing a man tell you how he saw his best friend eaten alive, or watched as boys just sat down under a tree and waited to die...looking into the face of a 31 year old man, seeing the eyes of the 8 year old boy who arrived in Kakuma, the 4 year old who fled his village in terror. These aren't memories that you easily leave behind.

After my initial contact with the Lost Boys I did some more research. There are a number of very good documentaries, films and books that tell the feel-good stories of successful repatriation of Lost Boys. In 1999 the US took almost 4000 orphaned Lost Boys in a program that sadly came to a halt on September 11, 2001 for obvious reasons. The South Sudanese independence in 2005 saw many more return to South Sudan. But in all these stories I found not one mention that there remain these 200 original Lost Boys still in Kakuma.

By their own accounts these Lost Boys have had their applications for repatriation either lost, or they are being told to "be patient", some 27 years on. “I was promised resettlement to the US but nothing has happened. Our life in Kakuma was full of waiting but waiting for nothing to come. We are just left behind and forgotten." - the words of Taban Malwei's echoed those of all the Lost Boys.

To give you an idea of life in Kakuma, the camp has a capacity to hold 100 000 refugees. It is currently home to estimated 150 000 refugees and that number is rising. The temperature sits around 40 degrees, regular dust storms blow through the camp with limited natural shelter, and when the rains come they flood the camp and bring mosquitoes and malaria. Due to increased numbers rations have recently been cut. Standard rations make it a struggle for one small meal a day. Kakuma is the Swahili word for "nowhere".

To spend a year or two in Kakuma camp would be difficult. To arrive having survived the journey that these boys, now men, did, only to spend 27 years in these conditions “waiting for nothing to come” is incomprehensible. When one man, in a voice barely audible, looking meekly to the ground, said to me” “Maybe God sent you” I had no words...i still don't.

A Message from The Lost Boys

On behalf of the Lost Boys and on my own behalf, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and every one who take his/her time/effort in this Lost Boys program and also a great privilege for me to be a member of this great Lost Boys group. I am particularly also impressed by the effort taken by everybody who is part of the exhibition.

We are part of the Lost Boys who traveled the Tiring Valleys and long distances of Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya and the terrible sleepless nights and fear in the forests of Sudan and Ethiopia.

We have patiently lived in here in the desert of Kenya for over 22 years and have been constantly praying and hoping for any open doors but seems impossible.

Yours faithfully,

Simon Adier Ayuel

Photo Essay by: Chris Peken


These photos were shot in late 2013 (ages indicated are as of that date), and originally exhibited in 2014 at the Gaffa Gallery One, Sydney. The work would not have been possible but for the invaluable contribution and collaboration of Ethiopian journalist -in-exile Qaabata Boru.

Chris Peken is a Sydney born, Yangon based photographer. He has shot in Italy, Indonesia, India, the United States, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Kenya and Tanzania.

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