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Former 'Lost Boy' inspires
Working to aid Sudan he escaped as a child
lost
Ngor Mayol shared his experiences Monday night during "The Lost Boys of Sudan" program at Cumming First United Methodist Church. - photo by Jim Dean

 

Proudly beaming, Linda Austin stood next to Ngor Mayol on Monday night.

Aside from their contrasting skin tones and accents, he might as well be her natural-born son.

"I call him John," Austin said as she began the story of how Mayol had come from Sudan to the United States 10 years earlier.

Nearly 80 people came to hear them share their experiences during "The Lost Boys of Sudan" program at Cumming First United Methodist Church.

"Lost Boys" refers to a group of about 38,000 Sudanese children, mostly male, who fled their families and homes in the wake of a civil war in the mid-1980s.

They walked hundreds of miles through treacherous territory, finally settling in a Kenyan refugee camp. Many did not survive.

In 2001, America brought more than 4,000 boys into the country, with about 150 settling in the Atlanta area.

Mayol arrived on June 12, 2001. He may have been about 16, though no one knows for sure. His American name, given to him at the refugee camp, is John Madut.

In 2001, Austin, a retired schoolteacher, took in him and four other "Lost Boys," who were experiencing life outside of Africa for the first time.

"The major thing that we had with the boys was just learning America," Austin said. "And you have to remember they were learning America in the South."

They picked up several ideas about American life from watching white, Southern women, she said with a laugh.

Austin said education was important to Mayol, who eventually began attending an American public school.

He graduated in 2005, leading the Pledge of Allegiance at his high school commencement, which Austin said "still gives me chills."

Now, Mayol attends Georgia Perimeter College, where he must spend two years mastering English before pursuing additional studies.

He also holds down two jobs and spends his spare time working to bring help to villages in his native country.

Mayol has worked on a project that brought a well with clean water to a village, and he's working to get a school built.

"I don't know how he does it," Austin said. "I continue to be impressed."

Mayol said like many of the "Lost Boys," he sees education as the path to succeed in life.

He quit his first job after nearly two years when the managers would not let him work a different shift so he could go to school.

He looks up to some of the older "boys," who are pursuing master's degrees.

"I'm still young, but one day, I will be like them," Mayol said.

After he finished high school, Mayol returned to Sudan in 2006, when he saw what needed to be done to help the people.

"It's not only my village that doesn't have a school, the whole area is like that," Mayol said. "The whole area needs help with clean water, medication and education."

Mayol also discussed the recent referendum vote, Sudan's first, in which voters overwhelmingly chose to divide the nation into Northern and Southern Sudan.

He is optimistic for the future, which he hopes will allow his Southern Sudan to obtain a stable government and work on much-needed infrastructure.

He said the country could not stand as it was, divided by many differences.

"If you put the religion in between, you're not going to bring people together," Mayol said. "I think our voices were heard by God or whoever we worship."

Not all eyes were dry as Mayol finished his talk and began fielding questions.

Audience members asked about his trek as a boy, his thoughts on the political standing of the future Southern Sudan and about voting for the first time.

Garrett Anderson, 12, inquired about the number of "Lost Boys" and their fates.

The middle school student in Fulton County, who is about the age of many of the youth during their trek years ago, said the speech enriched what he is learning in school.

"I can even tell my kids all about the 'Lost Boys,'" he said of the opportunity.

His mother, Karen, said she found a flyer for the event at their church in Alpharetta and thought it would be a good experience.

"This was very real world, making connections," she said. "I think [Austin] was incredible. She was so brave to take that first step. It's a testament to her faith."

The program was sponsored by the Cumming First United Methodist Women.

Member Tracy Lee White, who said the group arranged for Mayol's visit after a recent study of Sudan, was inspired by his speech.

"I'm in awe because part of you just can't fathom what these kids went through," she said. "It's just incredible that they survived."

"When you look at where he came from and what matters to him, it makes me as an American remember what our country was founded on and what we take for granted every day."