Violence in Africa Is Personal for IPCR ‘Lost Boys’

By Purnell T. Cropper | April 2, 2010

“Fleeing Rebels Kill Hundreds of Congolese,” read the headline Sunday, March 28, in the New York Times. For two Arcadia students in the International Peace and Conflict Resolution program, their perspective on violence in Africa isn’t just academic, it’s personal. The Democratic Republic of the Congo borders Sudan, a nation they both fled on foot and alone at the age of 5. It also borders Tanzania, where they studied this past summer in Arcadia’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution master’s program.

“Two of the so-called ‘lost boys’ of Sudan are wrapping up their graduate studies in peace and conflict resolution at Arcadia University in Philadelphia and plan to return home to help their war-torn country,” reported KYW radio’s Karin Phillips on March 8 in a report titled Former Sudanese Refugees. “As small children, Ayuen Garang Ajok and Michael Majok Kuch escaped from the same ravaged southern Sudanese village and took virtually the same harsh, decade-long journey to the United States…. Both men plan to return to Sudan and work to help their war-torn country, where they say there is peace but no stability.”

Kuch told the reporter that the IPCR program will give him the tools he needs to help his homeland. “(It) made me understand what conflict is, how to resolve conflict, and how to really be informed about how we were attacked and the root causes,” he said. Kuch’s “epic journey of survival and reconciliation,” was featured in the fall Chesntut Hill College magazine. Read how he fled the bombing of his village, spent his childhood in refugee camps separated from most of his family, arrived in the United States in 2000, returned to his village (Bor) this past summer, and never gave up the hope of reuniting with his mother.

Ajok, who was just 5 when his small village in southern Sudan was attacked. Separated from his family, he walked to Ethiopia: “I never had a childhood. I picked up my responsibility, and this reason helped me change my thought to a be a better man, to do something positive,” he told Phillips. He was in Ethiopia for 4 years and witnessed many tragic events, including the drowning of many young refugees who were being pursued by Ethiopian rebels. Ajok entered the United States as an unaccompanied child. He has been an intern for the U.S. Congress and was an adviser on the effects of war on young children.

Ajok recently participated in an intergenerational, interfaith panel discussion about experiences of youth who arrive in the U.S. without parents called “A Long Way From Home: Refugee and Immigrant Children Without Parents” in February. The event was sponsored by the HIAS and Council and the Migration Service of Philadelphia. Kuch and Ajok were among 27,000 “lost boys.”