And oh, how I bonded with my Lost Boys from that show. They have all grown up now. Two are attending college at the Manhattan School of Music, one at the University of British Columbia, and a few here in Utah. They are still involved in the arts and such wonderful, fun, talented boys. I have such fond memories of running around the stage together, swinging on the set, belting our hearts out and making mischief.
But a few years ago we met a real lost boy. Several of them, actually. But there was one in particular with whom my husband and I bonded. His name is Abraham and he is amazing. Amazing Abraham.
Vic and I had been invited by our friends, Scott and Kelly Wolf (name dropping, I know...but they are so great) to a fundraising event for their foundation, the Chier Foundation. This foundation helps "Lost Boys" living in Utah to attend college. The reason Scott and Kelly named their foundation "Chier" Is because of what one of our Lost Boy friends once said, "Chier is our word for 'North Star', a star we followed on our journey through the desert. Which means all young boys from Sudan who came to America will shine like that star in the future and they will help to build a new Sudan."
Luckily, I knew exactly what a "lost boy" was before attending the event. Years earlier, we happened to pick up a DVD from the library; it was a documentary about the Lost Boys of Sudan. It completely riveted me. It is safe to say that this film has stayed with me and impacted me more than any other. Since then, I have been utterly fascinated by these boys and what they have been through. Their stories are absolutely incredible and heartbreaking. And I knew there was a group of them living in the Salt Lake valley...I just never dreamed I would one day be a part of their lives.
But what surprises me more than the fact that we are now friends with several of these Lost Boys, is that almost everyone I talk to about Abraham has no idea what a "lost boy of Sudan" is or what it means. Let me let briefly educate you:
From 1983-1999, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudanese Government had been at war in southern Sudan. The conflict claimed more than 2.5 MILLION lives and displaced huge numbers of people. Among these were at least 20,000 children, mostly boys, between 7 and 17 years of age who were separated from their families. These 'lost boys' of the Sudan trekked enormous distances over a vast unforgiving wilderness, seeking refuge from the fighting. Hungry, frightened and weakened by sleeplessness and disease, they crossed from the Sudan into Ethiopia and back, with many dying along the way. The survivors are now in camps in Kenya, the Sudan and Uganda. In 2001, as part of a program established by the United States Government and the United Nations, approximately 3800 Lost boys were allowed to resettle in the United States. They are now scattered over at least 38 cities, most of them orphaned, having lost MULTIPLE family members in the war. Eventually, the separate nation of South Sudan was formed.
Abraham was one of those boys who left home at age SEVEN to escape the violence. He was tending cattle outside the village when the violence broke out and was able to flee. Can you imagine wandering for 3 years through the barren wilderness at age SEVEN? Escaping wild animals, having nothing to eat, and not knowing if your family back home was dead or alive? I cannot begin to FATHOM Peter experiencing something like this.
So there we were...at this fundraising party in Park City in a beautiful, gigantic home. The architecture and the catered food, the music, the lights, the things people were wearing...it was beautiful. The moon was full and heavy and the snow outside sparkled. But the most crushingly beautiful thing were the smiles and the spirits of these lost boys. I was honored to be in their presence.
When the boys found out Vic was an immigration attorney, they flocked to him. We shared our story of losing Lucy, and were, in a way, able to bond with them. And that's how it all began.
After that, they started making regular visits to Vic's office. Always with a smile on their faces. Always ready with a handshake and an open palm. (Oh, wait. Those are some lyrics from "Master of the House". Too much Les Mis rehearsal in my head..)
Abraham was able to return to Sudan a few times, and on one such occasion he married a childhood friend, Adhieu. But due to immigration issues, she was unable to return to the U.S. with him. Vic got everything into order for her, and after waiting for over a year and a half to be reunited with his wife, it finally happened last month!
Since then we have been busy fundraising for them in order to buy them a washer and dryer, a vacuum, bedding, winter boots, socks, pots, pans, dishes, and other essential items.(Abraham was living such a bachelor life before his wife arrived...sleeping on JUST A MATTRESS. He owned no silverware or dishes) Due to the generosity of so many, just this very night I installed the washer and dryer and put their new vacuum together. It was such a trip to show Adhieu how to run the dishwasher, how to use a vacuum, and to tell her that no, you do not fill up the washing machine and then wash the clothes by hand in the water. Such different worlds we come from. (His wife was effected by the war as well. She lost her father and ALL FOUR of her brothers).
With each batch of clothing I bring to them (donated by you, my lovely friends), and each box of decorations for their bare walls, each pair of shoes, and each and every towel and blanket, they look into my eyes and thank me. I told them not to thank ME, but to thank YOU. That's when Abraham said, in his beautiful, broken English,
"I have nothing to give them to say THANK YOU. But please tell that God will bless them."
The other remarkable thing I've noticed each time we give them something, is that they are grateful for the item, but you can tell they are not attached to "things". They have very little clothing, just the essentials, and they are not burdened down with too much "stuff." Their focus is on good food, good company, and simply... love.
We had them over for Christmas dinner. They came in their very best clothing, having just come from an Episcopal church downtown, where the Sudanese population of Salt Lake had gathered to say prayers for their country, which is in the midst of yet another war.
We asked them if they knew anyone effected by the latest outbreak of violence. "Yes. We know many people who have lost friends. But it is a way of life for us. We are sad. It is horrible. But it is part of our lives."
They thanked us for dinner, they beamed at the DVD player we gifted them, and they headed back out into the dark cold night together. With their black skin and their beaming eyes, they left a trail of light behind them that only those made beautiful by crushing pain can emulate.
I love that I was once the "leader" of the Lost Boys of Neverland and that "Neverland" is where Lucy now resides. I love that I have a real Lost Boy in the flesh as a part of our family's lives who followed the "Chier"...the "Star" that led to his eventual freedom. I am humbled to be in their presence. And I'm humbled by all of the help you have given them.
THANK YOU. And as Abraham said, "God Bless."
Waiting at the airport with friends for his wife's arrival...
In her beautiful wedding dress! 30 hours of flying and a shoe that broke in the NYC airport (she came with only one pair of sandals)
Setting up their apartment. (Which we found through an Instagram friend of mine whom I'd never met! Amazing.)
Jenny Towery setting up their first Christmas tree.
Wearing the gorgeous coat that Cristi Bastian donated and a winter hat from Susan Hale.
Zoë was obsessed with Adhieu's beautiful skin. And it was the first time Adhieu had ever met/seen a red head!!
And so much more not pictured. Thank you to everyone who donated money, items, time, and expressed their love, care, and concern for these amazing people. I will keep you posted on their new life together in America.