John Bul Dau, one of 'the lost boys of Sudan,' to speak here Thursday

John Bul Dau, one of ‘the lost boys of Sudan,’ to speak here Thursday

John Bul Dau, one of the “lost boys of Sudan” featured in the film “God Grew Tired of Us,” will speak at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 29, in the auditorium of O’Shaughnessy Educational Center on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.

The talk, free and open to the public, is sponsored by St. Thomas’ University Lectures Committee. For more information, call Benjamin Nebo, chair of the committee, (651) 962-6136.

Dau, 34 and a student at Syracuse University, has been on a journey almost beyond belief. He wrote about it in God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir, published in January by National Geographic. He continues to update his story via an Internet blog.

Born in a village in southern Sudan, Dau was a child when, as he says, “the troubles began.” The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army was formed in response to a presidential declaration that the country would become a Muslim state and governed under sharia law. He heard the adults in his village say that the government troops were killing boys, in particular, so they wouldn’t grow up and join the resistance army.

John Bul Dau

His village, sympathetic to the resistance movement, came under attack one night in August 1987; Dau fled into the bush without so much as a shirt. He and a few others made a grueling journey – sometimes eating mud just for the moisture it contained – until they reached a refugee camp in Ethiopia called Pinyudu. While there, he emerged as a leader of about 1,200 other boys who built thatch shelters and lived for four years.

When they learned the camp was going to be attacked, a group of 27,000, most of them boys, fled back to their homeland, but many died along the way. About 18,000 made it back to the resistance-held town of Pochala. Less than a year later, when that town came under attack, Dau fled again with 1,200 boys. Another grueling, six-month journey took them south to a massive refugee camp in northern Kenya.

Dau spent 10 years there and in an outdoor classroom learned English, math, geography, history and civics. In 2001, he and three other “lost boys” came to the United States under the sponsorship of a Presbyterian church in Skaneateles, N.Y.

Often working extra shifts at MacDonalds, UPS and as a security guard, he raised enough money to bring some of his family members to the United States, as well as his now-wife, Martha, one of the “lost girls of Sudan.”

He now is working on a degree at the Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, giving talks, and working on behalf of the citizens of Sudan. He started two nonprofit organizations and is director of the Sudan Project at Direct Change, which raises funds for health and education projects in southern Sudan.

A first-hand account of some of Dau’s struggles as a child can be read in an article he co-wrote with Karen Kostyal; the account can be found here.

“Even if you are at the bottom, it is possible you can work up,” he says. “I knew one day I wouldn’t be in the situation I was in because hope is never lost.”