Former City students share their story of survival & escape

Lacey, Lizzie

By LIZZIE LACEY
City Times

“They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan,” published in June 2005, was co-authored by brothers Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng and cousin Benjamin Ajak.

On Oct. 18, they spoke at the Solana Beach Library, accompanied by Judy Bernstein, Chair of the Advisory Committee of the San Diego International Rescue Committee and the mentor, who helped develop their stories and structure the book.

Both Benson Deng and Alephonsion Deng attended San Diego City College. Alephonsion Deng and Bernstein spoke about the book and their journey at Saville Theatre Sept. 25.

The three young men, now all in their early 20s, were part of an estimated 20,000 boys who were driven from their villages in southern Sudan during the civil war.

Half survived the journey, and in 2000 and 2001 the U.S. brought 3,800 to America as refugees. There are 100 boys living in San Diego.

At the presentation and book signing, Benson Deng described the five year journey he began when his village in southern Sudan was attacked in 1987 by northern government troops. At age seven, he traveled 1000 miles across Sudan to Ethiopia wearing only his underwear.

When war erupted there three years later, he traveled back through Sudan and finally arrived at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, where he lived for nine years before qualifying to come to America.

Bernstein introduced another Sudenese refugee and band mate of one of authors, Ajieng Deng. Ajieng was older than the co-authors when his village was attacked. He fled with one million others to a displacement camp in the north. Arrested and tortured for singing about peace, his thumbnails were pulled out so he couldn’t play guitar. He and his wife fled to Cairo and finally America.

Deng plays in a Sudanese Reggae-Jazz band called ThongJieng with Alephonsion Deng.

Benson Deng ended the presentation with a song played on the Thom, a five string fretless “guitar”, usually made from a gourd and deerskin. Benson had made his in the camp with a cooking dish, fishing line, and firewood which was scarce and very dangerous to get.

Since the release of their book, Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, and Benjamin Ajak have spoken to over 60 community groups, churches, temples, and schools about their harrowing journey through war-torn Sudan and the challenges they have faced adapting to American culture.

“They call me a survivor – and I did, I survive. I made up my mind to tell the whole world where I have been,” said Ajak.

The World Affairs Council has established a fund for the three co-authors to pursue their education. Donations can be made to the Lost Boys Education Fund at 27461 Schulte Rd, Carmel, CA 92923.