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Beyond the text: Pursuing Change Where it is needed

How can one have so much hatred to cause them to raid a village with the purpose to tear apart families, to kill, and to steal?  Why are boys forced to fight in wars, woman raped, and pleasure found in making other’s lives unbearable?  Why do some children complain about the food that is placed on the table when other children have to settle for mud and grass?  These are difficult questions to answer, but one must wonder why some have to live in more severe conditions than others.  The Lost Boys of Sudan and boy soldiers could ask questions daily about why they experienced a life of heartache some could not even comprehend.  Their stories are worth telling, not for entertainment but for the purpose of change.  Empathy, with an action of change, towards them and their country is the change that needs to occur.  One can learn how to support this change by learning more about the Lost Boys of Sudan and boy soldier’s pasts and by supporting organizations that are already pursuing this change.

There are countless tragic stories that the Lost Boys and boy soldiers could share, from their pasts, with the public.  Specifically Valentino Achak Deng does in the novel What is What by David Eggers about his experience as a Lost Boy.  The Lost Boys of Sudan are the boys that traveled many miles, on foot, to reach safety and escape genocide (HELP).   He explains his detailed life story, as much as he can remember, of how he was separated from his family and had to learn how to survive on his own.  He had to watch boys next to him be eaten up by lions and had to walk hundreds of miles without food and water.  He wrote, “I became accustomed to the walking, to the aches in my legs and in the joints of my knees, to the pains in my abdomen and kidneys, to picking thorns out of my feet…” (Eggers 135).  These Lost Boys walked to find safety and every day were brought new challenges that were life threatening.

Valentino and hundreds of other Lost Boys were on their way to Ethiopia to find safety away from the rebels who would shoot anyone in their path.  The Khartoum, which is the capital city in Sudan, sent rebels to clear out the Dinka population (Eggers 134).  The reason the rebels chose the Dinka is because they were a threat and were known for being a support of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).  The SPLA was an army that fought against the rebels (Eggers 79).  The government paid all of the rebels by giving them permission to take anything from the Dinka people; food, clothing, and people (Eggers 133).  Their goal was to wipe out as much as they could of the Dinka’s independence and make them fully reliable of the Khartoum (Eggers 134).

Valentino, as a part of the Dinka population, witnessed suffering first-hand.  He explains his hunger while being on his travels: “My own hunger would ebb and flow and when it came to me I felt it everywhere.  I felt it in my stomach and chest and arms and thighs” (Eggers149).  The Lost Boys would trade their own clothes, leaving them practically naked, in order to eat, and most walked barefoot (Eggers 157).

When one is suffering of hunger they cannot even think straight, let alone walk all day in the hot sun with the fear of death creeping on them at all angles.  Even though Valentino was starving, he still kept honor of his culture, he wrote “We walked and as we walked I expected to be offered food and water.  I needed both, had had neither since the morning, but had been taught never to beg” (Eggers 98).  How could one not beg, or even ask, for food even though they could die shortly without it?

Hunger may have seemed minor compared to what Valentino witnessed of the rebels attacking villages.  He wrote, “…women screaming, the babies tossed into wells.  Watch your brothers explode” (Eggers73).  Also, he wrote of the suffering he witnessed while traveling with the Lost Boys: “Boys died of malaria, they starved, they died of infections” (Eggers 156).  Their bodies were weak; with no nutrition or enough sleep.  He explained the water conditions that led to their lack of nutrition, “The well had been contaminated.  Dead goats and one half-charred man had been thrown into it” (Eggers 83).  Not only would food and water be scarce, but there was little sleep as well.  He explains, “I stuffed my ears with small stones to block out the sound” (Eggers 107).  The Lost Boys would try to sleep on the hard ground, but would hear continual noises that kept them in fear.

Sadly, Valentino’s tragic story is only one of the many.  Ishmael Beah is another man who wrote of his experiences, but as a boy soldier.  Boy soldier is a broad term that can also be known as “child soldiers”, that represents boys and girls.  Child soldiers are children that are forced to carry a gun, kill, or be used in other ways such as sexual favors (Child).

Ishmael Beah was split from his family and spent many days trying to escape the rebels.  He eventually was taken and forced to fight.  His memoir A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier explains the suffering he witnessed, his journey of being brainwashed to kill, and the emotional scars that have been left from his experiences.  He wrote this about what he saw in the rebels before he was forced to become one: “A group of more than ten rebels walked into the village.  They were laughing and giving each other high fives.  Two looked slightly older than me.  They had blood on their clothes, and one of them carried the head of a man, which he held by the hair” (Beah 96).  These men killed for fun, and did not show a sign of regret or grief.

The stories of these boys, now men, are so that people can learn about what is going on still today in our world.  Boys are forced to kill and see their own people being tortured.  Some of them have no hope of a better life than to rely on finding a “family” in an army of soldiers who kill for pleasure.  Ishmael Beah and Valentino Achak Deng survived this and feel it is their responsibility to tell so changes can be made.

The many children that have been forced into situations similar to Ishmael and Valentino cannot be forgotten, and these men can attest that actions need to be made.  Now that one has heard these stories, how can they take action to help prevent more children being forced into situations like Ishmael and Valentino?  Thankfully, there are organizations that help support the Lost Boys and boy soldiers, and can be accessed and supported online.  Some of the organizations are: Invisible Children, HELPSudan, John Dau Foundation, and Valentino’s very own Valentino Achak Foundation.

Invisible Children is focused on building up the Ugandan community with many different approaches (Invisible).  Invisible Children explains, “Our programs are carefully researched and developed initiatives that address the need for quality education, mentorships, the redevelopment of schools, resettlement from the camps, and financial stability” (Invisible).  HELPSudan focuses on education for the children of Sudan (HELP).  The John Dau Foundation is focused on providing healthcare in South Sudan and also on supporting medical clinics for areas affected by war (John).  Also, Valentino Achak Foundation uses its support money to send scholarships to the Sudanese, and also to help build a center in Sudan that gives learning opportunities (Larson).

Those organizations, and many others, were started by people who realized that a change needed to occur.  By supporting these organizations one can make a change.  Although giving financially is not the only way to help.  The Valentino Achak Foundation explains that there are some other ways to help:  an option is to write a personalized letter to a representative or senator in one’s state about the misconduct in Sudan’s government in Khartoum (Larson).  Also, one can write a letter to Congress arguing against Khartoum’s help towards the United States in the War on Terror (Larson).  Regarding the War on Terror, Khartoum gives the United States information concerning suspected terrorist, and this seems to keep the United States government quiet in fighting against the genocide in Sudan, because of the information Khartoum provides (Larson).  Whether Khartoum gives the United States information, or not, it is not worth the genocide that still occurs today.

Even though some of the Lost Boys and the boy soldiers have escaped the horror of war, and are still alive today, they still need help.  Supporting organizations and writing letters to representatives are important but there is still more to keep in mind.  If the boy soldiers and Lost Boys make it to the United States they still face many challenges.  The United States is considered a place of prosperity and safety by many people from other countries, but that is not always the reality.  Valentino explained in his novel that he was called “Africa”, in Atlanta, and was faced with severe prejudice remarks and physical abuse in the United States (Eggers 22).  He said, “You would not add to my suffering if you knew what I have seen” (Eggers 29).  The United States needs to be empathetic and loving towards them instead of adding to their distress, and that is another way that one can help.

The Lost Boys and the boy soldiers who survive are left with not only physical scars to show their past, but also emotional scars.  This is a harsh reality that severe events are happening, still today, and even small steps that are taken to prevent them are going to make an impact.  Men like Valentino and Ishmael each have a story that is tough to read, but there are many other similar stories that could be told by other men who have faced, or are facing, the same challenges.  There is no answer to why some have to experience persecution in their lives, while others do not, but those who do not have a greater responsibility to do something to stop the injustices.  When one can better understand the type of suffering that is happening in the world, and specifically of the Lost Boys and boy soldiers, they can better understand how to help stop the suffering and hopefully will take immediate action.

Work Cited

Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. New York: Farrar,

Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.

“Child Soldiers International.” Web. 23 Oct. 2011. <http://www.child-

soldiers.org/childsoldiers/questions-and-answers>

Eggers, Dave. What Is the What: the Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng : a  

             Novel. San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2006. Print.

“HELPSudan | History.” HELPSudan | Home. Web. 22 Oct. 2011.

<http://www.helpsudaninternational.org/about/history.html&gt;.

“Invisible Children.”  23 Oct. 2011. <http://www.invisiblechildren.com/our-story&gt;.

John Dau Foundation. Web. 22 Oct. 2011. <http://johndaufoundation.org/&gt;.

Larson, Greg.  What is the What: Readers Guide. Web. 23 Oct.

            <http://www.valentinoachakdeng.org/images/WhatistheWhatreadersguide.pdf>

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