November 12, 2009

SIUC to host one of the ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- One day he was an orphaned little boy walking barefoot across the sub-Saharan desert, dodging wild animals and murderous rebel soldiers. And then one day he was in an American grocery store, staring at more food than he had ever seen in his life.

John Bul Dau is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, one of about 25,000 children, ages 3 to 13, who fled their villages during a civil war and walked, most of them barefoot, across the sub-Saharan desert to a refugee camp in Kenya.

He comes to Southern Illinois University Carbondale to discuss his incredible journey, not just across the desert, but also across the ocean and across a cultural gulf that caused him to change and grow in ways he could never have foreseen.

Dau delivers the Michael and Nancy Glassman University Honors Lecture beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 17, in the Student Center Ballroom D. A reception and book signing follows. This event is free.

Dau is one of the subjects of the lauded documentary film, “God Grew Tired of Us,” by Newmarket Films. The documentary traced some of the Lost Boys -- named so by a journalist who compared them to the motherless boys led by Peter Pan -- who were re-settled in the United States. The film won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Dau inspired the name of the documentary when he used the phrase as he discussed his feelings about his situation.

“God Grew Tired of Us” is also the name of Dau’s memoir, written with Michael Sweeney and published in 2007 by National Geographic Press.

Today, Dau is a sought-after keynote speaker and a human rights activist. He established the John Dau Foundation, which seeks, among other things, to transform health care in South Sudan. Dau is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer Award recipient. He was also a finalist in the Volvo for Life Award in the Quality of Life Category in 2008, which garnered a $25,000 contribution for his foundation. He lives in Syracuse, N. Y., with his family.