Atem Da’Hajhock, John Kuai, and Joan Hecht

Recorded December 5, 2009 Archived December 5, 2009 38:26 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBX006133


Atem Da’Hajhock (28) and John Kuai (27) talk with Joan Hecht (57) about their experiences as one of the many young refugees from Sudan called the Lost Boys.

Subject Log / Time Code

Atem was 6 years old when the civil war broke out in Sudan. He remembers his village after it had been attacked and being scared from the carnage.
John was 8 years old when his father was killed. he could not believe that someone could take a human life.
Atem and John met as they were joined by other children who ran from home to find safety along the Ethiopian border. Half of the thousands and thousands of children that fled from the civil war died on their way to refugee camps in Ethiopia.
Eventually, Atem and John arrived at Pan Yi Do refugee camp in Ethiopia. They stayed there until civil war in that country drove them out. They returned to Sudan.
They came to a refugee camp established specifically for Lost Boys and Girls and it was there that John and Atem were able to go to school.
In 1999 a resettlement program was started through which Atem and John were able to come to the United States.


  • Atem Da’Hajhock
  • John Kuai
  • Joan Hecht

Recording Location

MobileBooth East



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00:05 My name is Joan hacked and I'm the founder and president of Alliance For The Lost Boys of Sudan located in Jacksonville. And I'm author of the book The Journey Of The Lost Boys. I'm 52. Today's date is December 5th. 2009. Our location is Jacksonville, Florida, and I am a mentor and Mom to both of the gentleman joining me today.

00:32 My name is Adam. Joke originally from Sudan. I'm one of the Lost Boys of Sudan and of course I am residing in Jacksonville, Florida.

00:47 My name is John, I am 27 years old today date is December 5 2009 location is Jacksonville, Florida, and I'm one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

01:06 A lot of people aren't familiar with the story of The Lost Boys. So before we began, I'd like to give a brief overview if I'm a sudan is a country that has long been divided not only in terms of the land but also in terms of the people who live there to the North and the dry arid regions there resides a predominant Muslim population while further south and the more tropical region there resides a predominant black Christian and animist population in a mister people who practice tribal traditions and beliefs quite often in the South. You'll find a combination of the two in 1956 when Sudan gained its independence from the British the British relinquish control of that country in large part to the Muslims of the north considering them to be better educated and more suited for the task. The Northerners sought to unite Sudan as an Islamic Nation to which the southerners choosing to worship. God In Their Own.

02:06 I rebelled for this reason and others such as territorial disputes racial discrimination and the discovery of oil on southern land Civil War erupted between the North and South.

02:20 Ultimately and 1983 a holy Jihad was declared against the South and the northern troops and government-sponsored militias began invading Southern Villages killing innocent men women and children many of the women and young children were captured and held as slaves in the north the civil war between North and South Sudan lasted approximately 20 years killing at least two and a half million people and displacing millions of others and yet most of the world never even knew it happened. And that's one of the reasons why I chose to interview both of you today so that your story will never be forgotten and hopefully never repeated.

03:08 Attempt, where were you on the day that your village was attacked? And how old were you at the time?

03:15 I was six wonder my Village was attacked and I was at the cattle Camp myself and my cousins and my other brother at that point a messenger came from the village in tall as well as in done. That's our Billy has been a tired. And so we immediately run into the village to find where abouts I wear pants at the Village. We didn't eat anything. It was no longer Billy that we knew it was just a scrambles of smoking and smelling of dead bodies and then we'll kind of things. It was actually be on same but at that point we let wondering do you know what to do and that's how it happened and so we decided to

04:13 To get out and I'm hiding the boots.

04:17 John what about you? What do you remember most about the day your village was attacked? And how old were you at the time?

04:25 Yeah, well.

04:27 One thing that I remember the most order her a pic of my father.

04:33 I Was 80 years old at the time and I cannot understand why people would kill a fellow human being inside and try to find why I was so devastated by the death of my father.

04:49 I'm certainly you know, it's estimated that 30,000 children became separated from their families during the Civil War between the North and South of Sudan you all came from various regions and dialects and yet you banded together and begin walking across the Wilds of Africa and search of safe Refuge. Most of you headed toward the refugee camps along the Ethiopian border. It was a treacherous journey across mountains deserts and dents African bush one that lasted approximately three months you had very little food and water and no protection from wild animals and enemy soldiers. That's talk to you night and day Aid workers flying overhead said that your path was an easy one to trace because all one had to do was follow the trail of Bones and dead bodies that lie in your wake.

05:44 It's estimated that over half the children died along the way I find it difficult to even talk about this. I just can't imagine having to endure it and you were only children John. What kept you going during that horrible Journey?

06:03 LOL

06:05 The journey was very difficult.

06:09 And

06:11 It was the longest journey. I have ever travel and there were moments that I felt completely exhausted and I refused walk by my uncle. And falling to some of the people that were lying dead along the sidewalk and he told me if you don't want to work you are going to be the neck.

06:42 That was my uncle that kept me walking name of the last God was the one that kept me alive at 10. What do you remember most about walking to Ethiopia?

06:55 Weather I remember more for the party go walking and running day and night the the lack of food and sleep and all kind of terrifying situation and in so it was better than pain to a point where to buy you cannot uniform gaps what has happened during those moment at that point. We were young we do know what do you know why it said two things were happening to us. And so I was so terrified and that's what I could remember inside decide that I was so sad and unhappy today in Thai.

07:42 Inna being on me

07:46 Once reaching Ethiopia you settled in various refugee camps along the border Aid workers began calling you The Lost Boys after the fictional characters in the movie Peter Pan and not because you were unruly like your fictional namesakes, but simply because like the Lost Boys in Peter Pan you were children living on your own and fending for yourselves. But as we all know your lives were no fairytale. It was a tale of suffering and loss Beyond human imagination John and at em, both of you settled in a camp known as Pena Nieto are poop Nido attempt. You've told me some stories about your life and pandito. I particularly like the one about your first haircut. Can you share that with the weather in my first haircut tomorrow?

08:38 Have you ever been a painful and I will never forgot it because I was being talked to by my friends to do so because when I came back I found out that he had her cuz we was not any haircut that all it but somehow it is a symbol haircut. So you talked me into that haircut than what I didn't know was not typical rather that was being used for haircut, but it was just as soon as Dean can or something so don't look like one which was passion in forever. And it was used for Hecate. Another point. I agree to do my haircut. Then the gentleman win with it. Then just took a portion of my kinky hair and then cut it. I was just so tired of fighting and it was so painful. And so I have to go long, you know, the tea is a little on I realize that the tears were just blowing on my

09:38 But again, there was this notion that you know, if you will be a man, you don't have to cry and so I was so full of Tim 222 accident that you know pain well and you also mentioned the lice one of the reasons that you decided to get your haircut. Well, you know how to do it because I will let you know it was like we have been there for 7 months and sometimes it will be within the entire Johnny. Which was took out almost 3 months. We didn't have any trouble at all. It is sometimes you going to Reba if there was one and then so when we came out ahead we're just pulling inspected in infected by eyes, you know Bible by life. And so it was just so painful and you have to do something, you know there to get rid of the black been sacked by many lies in your head. And so that's why I agree into into that to the heck.

10:38 I think will you also saw something if he and you know that you had never seen before tell us what that was important when I mention my age is Elliot. Well, I was born in 1981 July one. And of course when I went to bring you knew I was a kid, so I was not exposed than any other people around the globe. So I told her only people in Ethiopian where we're the only people that we had and at one point we were told that there was important people coming into the camera and we decided to go that the day we find out that you know, everybody people yank it where they just in chanting. Welcome. Welcome American congressmen, and I didn't know

11:31 Play when will the entire symptoms week was being Enchanted by many people on the field. And so I I just didn't know until one of my friends say do you know what is this meaning of welcome welcome American congressman and I told him that it might be the names of of white man tripe and I'm so he seemed to agree with my my answer until we went on and joined it. They did the car. Welcome. Welcome American congressman and when we look at them, the only funny thing that we realize what that behavior Northwest a little bit kind of tomorrow on your face, and that's why not one of the things that I remember was.

12:24 John you were an active volunteer while living in the camp and Panchito. Why don't you tell us what some of your duties as a volunteer included some of my duties as a repeat you can wear in water and burying dead friends.

12:47 Before I left my Village of gallon. I have never witnessed better about being somebody because Baron was done by the elders and we wait and find you know, the situation. To do so and it better now and then when we walked by because I wear different group, you will find dead bodies. So this will matter came they became and so we have to find a way to batter them. It was one of the thing.

13:23 That was so saddened and one of the Walton Way fancy and find you do I know you once told me that someone could read every history book ever written and they would never find a story about children bearing other children and that was part of your everyday life and Penny. Oh, it's very sad. I'm you remained in Ethiopia for approximately four years until Civil War also broke out in that country forcing you to flee once again to war-torn Sudan

13:56 I'm you are evacuated in groups are zones in an effort to prevent your Annihilation. Should you be attacked by enemy soldiers are there in Ethiopia or incident? But before reaching Sydney sauce spoil you first had to cross the gilo river at that time. It was May 1991 in the rainy season had begun. So the gala was extremely deep in the current Swift the first group to reach the bank's fashioned ropes from branches and Vines and tied them from one side of the river to the other this enabled the children who were weak or unable to swim to hold on to the ropes and pull themselves across the river. Unfortunately the currents were so strong that many of the children couldn't hold on and they were swept away and drowned fleeing under gunfire others quickly jumped into the water and were attacked by deadly crocodiles and hippos.

14:56 Approximately 2000 children died while crossing the gilo river and the water as you tell me quickly turned a deep shade of red. I imagine that in the midst of enemy gunfire and attracts attacked by crocodiles and hippos that many of you were probably in a state of panic and I can only assume that most of your efforts were focused on saving your own life much less the lives of others, but John you had a much different reaction. Can you tell us what happened when you reach the banks of the kilo?

15:32 Y'all want to read the back of the Yellow River. I have seen the number of Lost Boys standing by the bank of the river. That is 10 had a blessed and not knowing what to do.

15:43 And I wore the one that know how to swim. So I took the log of a train and tell V of the guys to hang on to the Lord then I take them to the other side of the river. And when I look back to the river there, where is kill and number of Lost Boys standing on the bank and the enemy was coming. So I was emotional terrify the tears were rolling down my eye because I didn't have enough life. It was a terrible tragedy that I will never forget him. I live

16:20 Well, thank goodness. You were able to save the five who did hold on to the tree as you swam across the river with crocodiles and hippos. Did you actually see attacks as you were swimming? Yeah, I have seen that the water turned into a bloody and a lot of the boys where is claiming they were calling for help, but there was no one to help.

16:45 In recognition of your efforts and also your volunteer service both in Africa and with the Alliance For The Lost Boys of Sudan you were recently awarded the 2009 Albert Ernest caring award by Hugh Jones and UNF. That's an extremely prestigious award and it's very much deserve. So congratulations for that John Tim. Do you want to come in about crossing the gilo? What Memories do you have from that?

17:15 Well crossing the river of Galo. It was better terrible pain for many of us as John as alluded to earlier because many of us didn't know how to swim and it was just painful for some of Po of us who are able to swim on the other side. And when we were at the camp in finding the money, you know how this bond that we we become so attached to one another we were so insupportable to a point that you know, how you know how you know they have for my my other brothers. And so when you are about to cross the river some even decided to come back what you do know, they were being gunpoint by the enemy and some of them where you've been dying to go back and be able to to bring at least a few of us who are left behind there.

18:13 After crossing the gilo you hid in the bush for approximately a year while making your way on foot to Kenya and the safety of the calcuma refugee camp that was established for your benefit by that time. You had walked over a thousand miles in search of safe Refuge.

18:34 Attempt, did you find life any better in calcuma Camp than in pan Keto?

18:41 Well in comparison. It was the same Refugee lights and they will lack of food in both cans lack of any medical attentions if there was need it was the same but in term of living is standard in Kenya we were able to to to go to school at least some of us at least we started going to classes under the trees for at least a year before we were being put in two different houses, which way are used for what weighs cooling so they live in kakuma was a little bit hopeful because we were able to read them in and see and you know, they did the life of other people in the books. And so. Give us a chance to hook that okay someday, there will be a much better player than then.

19:41 The Delight weed we will get hard in the car. If you are the best and worst memories of living and takuma can't I have balls when I pressed him to call, I was having a lot of work for Tatian about Kenya because when I was inviting you to fly was was but when I came to Kenya and inspection look out, refugee camp is that they lie atop from local people local restaurant has the attack as they thought that we have more resources than they were so they attack our daily.

20:26 2nd weather team a lot of people when suffering from diseases Colorado for the major disease that we're facing a lot of people, and two or three people will die from cholera and and the best memory my best memory about now, you just call and talk about they provide the best indication that I was receiving that I was receiving, you know, you know you see of you and another one was a student in America cuz u n o s u n Stuff from New York, they will go to the car, They will come with a postcard with the letters. They bring them to America. They take them to German and Australian that's was one of the best thing to call his phone and we see the pictures of the people that we were at a corresponding with.

21:27 So that my best memory Moscow, Well, you know, you mentioned education and the camps both of you. What was the slogan that you adopted as children assumably orphans while living in the camp. Yeah while we were living in the camp. We adopted the slogan that you do keishin is my mother and father being able to read for the first time. How did it feel being able to read and did you have a favorite story or a book?

22:00 Well, I had the old kind of books. I love for you, you know reading is my passion and better one thing that I have, you know, the lies to readings money books like War and Peace in book like pansy panels is a French writer. He was a psychiatrist. He's one of my best childhood reading is it give me a chance to see other people like, you know, then what I have and the only time some time that I will have to know that I am I so obvious when I'm out of the book and so it but again the life that we did went through as a kid. I have not encountered in any books that I've read them know that maybe I'm not getting counted it but I have never seen a situation where to buy a child will bury another child and so it is just

23:00 Why I see, you know things beyond my South when I was in the refrig it comes and Mike's good for that. Somehow. I have make it life in life is Marbury here now and 1999 the United States government and the unhcr began plans for a resettlement program. That would allow a 3800 Lost Boys and 85 Lost Girls to relocate to the United States of America. It was based on a lottery system in selection began with those arriving first to the camp back in 1990 to attend. What went through your mind when you saw your name on the list for resettlement to the US.

23:47 I was very happy belated with the fact that do, you know, I will be able to come around people who might have seen 14 years ago that we weigh in Chatham than welcome. Welcome American Congressman until I was very excited to to come to this Society to be able to to to to leave the way of life. And again my expectations about America will Bury Bury United United. I mean I was so full of hoped that maybe I will get you no good indications and a better life with indeed. I have to leave tested it in in term of, you know things that I was expecting on my suggestion to add Coming to America. I'm now it is cool. And I think my life is my betta eat. It has changed to what I was hoping for great John. What about you? What were some of your fears?

24:47 Expectations in Coming to America

24:50 When my name was a full State on the board because our you did there was a body in car, where we go over time and not every now and then to go and check whether your name was on the bus and when I went there and so my name I was very happy because I have learned about American Indian school special day America Industrial Revolution American Democracy in America location because I have read in the book that the past man to land on. The moon was an American. So I want to come to that a country who can put a man in the moon. So what my application was that they can put me into Advanced Medical School where I can go back and help people who are now suffering saw the incident and in fact, it did happen when I pass came here. I went to Florida Community College.

25:45 I finished my degree and now I'm pursuing my bachelor degree in biology and the next one will be medical school. So you look like my dream and my effort station about about them coming coming reality becoming reality and the worst part was cultural job. So I didn't know who I was mad in America and what American people exactly what their culture is and that's what were some of defecation that I have. Well, what were some of the most amazing things that you saw I know that you had some comments about women's clothing in America both of you tell me that you know, some of the funny experiences cuz I have a lot of them I wrote about them in my book and you know me when you first came here most of you had never used electricity or running water and you had to be taught basic things of everyday life such as

26:45 Across the street at a red light how to use a can opener how to eat with a fork and knife and certainly it wasn't because you were unable to do such tasks. You had just simply never been taught. So tell me some of the interesting things that you saw your first impressions in America, Jon. Why don't you go first. You're my present Bhajan about America was a steer.

27:10 When I was in the camera have never seen the stair is diarrhea moving people. I've been down. I don't have any lighters and also using the elevator. So surprising to me I never seen them before was it scary walking on the escalator the first time where did you think it was going to take you and it's him. What about you will at my present present when I come to America with somehow it might sound a little bit is playing but it was how women dress during summer and they just, you know, Mecca Medina talking to some you know, what kind of cultural Illinois chilling. I will talk to you a background with American as a stove has better, you know, it was so funny. You know I said I came from a country where to buy a woman just almost problem toes to Hidden in it. So it was very impressive to me.

28:10 And a big part of what I have just realized that I didn't even I was not focusing with the with the Tropicana and so part of what I didn't know was how will I get into my apartment? Because it seemed like the building. We're literally the same when I pet scan But as time goes by I was able to know my address as well. I also remember volunteers. This was not my gift. So I didn't really participate in this effort but volunteers teaching you how to drive cars and I remember one volunteer took one of your fellow brothers to the auto junkyard and he said what are all these cars where did all of them come from and papa are who, you know said to him. These are the cars from all the lost boys who learns how to drive because there are a lot of accidents in a lot of funny stories, but thankfully you're all okay.

29:10 It's him. I wanted to ask both of you. It's him and John you mentioned that when you started your journey, you were approximately six or eight years old. How old were you when you came to America and as I say this I also want to mention her as I ask this rather. I also want to mention that when you first came to America most Lost Boys did not know their real ages because you had separated from your family's when you were very young children. You had no idea. What day or what year you were born. But approximately how old were you when you came to America attempt. I was 19 when I came to America.

29:49 That was 20 years old when I came to America well as both of you know, in 2005 a constant comprehensive peace agreement was signed between North and South Sudan bringing an end to one of the longest-running Civil Wars ever recorded and during that time. A lot of Aid workers went into the South and when they did so they hired Lost Boys from kakuma refugee camp as translators and as they began going into the camps, they not only found some of their own family members, but they began finding family members of some of the lost boys living here in the US some of you began getting phone calls at 2 and 3 in the morning from mothers sisters and brothers whom you had not seen in almost 20 years. I'd say you got a call one day telling you that some people that you knew had walked in to talk to him a refugee camp shortly after you left who were those people

30:48 I was told by one of my friends. In fact you was my classmate and so I do one-day approximately when I was when I was so Young America for 10 at least almost below 10, Mom. I had to call from my friends and he say that you know, somehow there is this lady with the with five kids in the other truly looking dissembling you and you didn't answer, but, you know the same as your last name, and so he asked I told him to do would you mind to to get me connected with them and see if she will be able to talk to me that lady with the with the five kids and so my friend agreed to talk to Ed 2 to talk to her and on the following day I call and I tried to talk to when will become late on my mom and you know it.

31:48 First you thought I was joking and I say Mom. This is me. Can you talk to me now? And she hung up the phone? The second time are the third I called and she was able to to just to talk to me in and see what will be back up this man trying to talk to her because you know, I won't mind Keith all that that was that she thought you were a little boy looks like you thought I was little boy. And and so she just say, you know what you didn't believe it at first because I could tell you know, we have you questioned me and kind of different tone. And so I reminded her or my nickname which she got me when I was little which was a pro at I told her mom. This is me. This is a pearl and all of a sudden she was just crying and I was so excited that I had been able to talk to my mom for at least

32:48 More than 16 years at a time like okra and when it's wet, it becomes a very slippery and that's how you were as a child always slipping out of your mother's arms. And that's why she had called you at the roads and you also supported your family for several years and they can't you had five siblings as you mentioned before you had never met you put them all through college and then in 2005 an amazing thing happened. You were the first Lost Boy to bring his family to America and that was so exciting. What was it like seeing your mother and your siblings for the first time after so many years.

33:29 I was told pull up the emotion. I was so happy beyond words. I was almost in tears that I was able to see my mom after 17 years of Oppression and again to be able to to see my siblings who might have never seen until the way teenagers and until I was very emotionally happy. I was very excited and again, you know, one of the interesting thing that my mom asked me when when I first met her at the airport, she said, you know, would you mind to sit on my lap and I told her mom this is an international airport. I can do it wait until we get home and I will sit on your lap. And so I was better Happy.

34:15 Now I'm you and I also went to Sudan last March and while we were there we found families of some of the local lost boys whom they had not seen since they were children. We also found Brothers of some of the Lost Boys such as John and so we actually got to see your brother before you did that recently. You also went back to Sudan and got to see your mother and brothers for the first time and how many years in 22 years tell us what that felt like, it was really a lot of fun. If you ever had that in the Bible that the sun was lost and when he came back if I don't make a homecoming a big ceremony that was actually happened to me when I went back home. They throw a better big party and they call everybody they come they pray for me and my mom also insisted she want me to sit on her lap.

35:15 And I tell her mom I waited almost a hundred and eighty phone so I need you to sit on my lap. So I did I didn't I do it gentle it, but it was really sisters and especially my brother the other brother have two brothers. I didn't I didn't know how he look like and when I first saw him, I thought he was just another man and I'll tell you when we didn't see each other and it was really wonderful mom an amazingly. Well as you mentioned you were going to school with hopes of becoming a doctor attempt you will be graduating very shortly. What are your hopes after graduating from college? I want to be able to go to graduate school soon. Are you able to to do

36:14 What I have to do in and that's what I'm waiting and then decide that I want to go back also has to to be able to see some of my family relatives whom I have never seen and so is what I will do probably next year, but for now, I'm excited that I will be able to call myself a double Bachelor wishes, you know, I have a bachelor degree and of course, I might it until I'm very excited about that. Well, I would like to thank both of you for sharing your stories today. You're both like Sons to me and I love you very much. I'm so proud of everything that each of you have been able to accomplish in your lives. And I'm also excited to see what the future holds for you. I know that you're both going to do amazing things and I feel so fortunate to have you in my life and to have played.

37:14 Very small part in your success and I just want to say to you near ology Ave u a t a. God bless you both. Do you have any final words, but I will say is that your mom you are what I would always call an embodiment of two loved. We will be men that will do whatever we will be because of your airport your time your energy you are such an amazing Mom. Thank you so much. Thank you Canada price.

37:52 I was out with you. I think I wouldn't have been where I am today when I went back and see my mom. I tell her that day Mom. I have another mom in America.

38:04 My name is Mama John, and I didn't miss you at all. So Mama John. Thank you for the interview and thank you for everything that you have done to me. I love you guys. Thank you for the week.