Film depicts life in America for Sudanese refugees

Sudanese refugee Abraham Awolich wants more attention for Sudan, a country ravaged by war and genocide. ORACLE PHOTO/JOSE LOPEZ JR.

The Republic of the Sudan, the largest country in Africa, is deeply divided.

The North, inhabited by the ruling Sunni Muslim population, is arid and desert-like. The southern part of the country, where the minority Christian population resides, is tropical. The dichotomous climate reflects the division between two groups engulfed in a bloody conflict. The Darfur region of Sudan is mentioned on the news often enough, but many Americans still don’t have a clear sense of what’s going on in that faraway place.

Thursday night, the film Lost Boys of Sudan was screened, and Sudanese refugee Abraham Awolich fielded questions at USF’s College of Public Health to help spread the word about the crisis in Darfur, which has driven 240,000 Darfur residents from their homes.

The war has displaced anywhere from 5,300,000 to 6,200,000 people.

The film chronicled the trials of Santino and Peter, two of the 20,000 who came to be known as “lost boys” when they returned from herding cattle to find their villages plundered and families dead. The boys fled Sudan on foot, traveling to Ethiopia and finally Kenya, where they stayed in a refugee camp for nine years.

The two eventually made it to the United States, where Santino settled in Houston and Peter settled in Kansas. But the film showed the refugees’ arrival in the United States didn’t end their struggles. They dealt with loneliness, financial strain, pressure from home and more.

“People come to this country with different dreams, so there is no one thing you can give except support … someone to tell you to go left or go right,” Awolich said.

Awolich also reflected on the shyness of the Sudanese, and the aggressiveness of Americans.

“In my country, it’s a neighbor’s job to see that you are in need. It’s not your job to go out and tell them that you’re suffering,” he said. “Here, if you don’t talk about your own situation, everyone’s going to think that you have everything you need.”

Susan James, coordinator of International Programs at USF Health and one of the event’s organizers, stressed the importance of the film for American viewers.

“This documentary will really provide a firsthand look at what it’s like to live through one of Africa’s cruelest civil wars, as well as how a refugee deals with being in this war and coming to live in America. It will give viewers a perspective on the richness of African life and what Africa has to offer America. Abraham Awolich will help give us a sense of what one person has experienced and what he thinks we can all do to help.”

The film aims to educate Americans, but it’s also being used as a policy tool to make the issue real for those in Washington who can affect change. Lost Boys of Sudan has been screened on Capital Hill for the Congressional Refugee and Human Rights Caucuses and the State Department’s Refugee and Migration Program.

According to the film’s Web site, $1,000,000 has been raised for refugee education funds and thousands of people have volunteered their time at organizations aiding refugees as a direct result of the film.

Awolich’s advice for a sometimes apathetic American public is to pay attention.”I don’t blame people for not knowing about Sudan,” he said. “But shouldn’t genocide ring a bell in somebody’s ears?”