Shaunda Shaw & Shineil Taylor
Brianna Ebony Simpson
To be a new homeowner, husband, father and student at Georgia Perimeter College, Ernest Madut had to first come a long way—literally.
Twenty years ago, Madut was one of a group of wandering African refugees that became known as the Lost Boys of Sudan. In the late 1980s, orphaned by civil war, the Lost Boys walked from Sudan to Ethiopia to Kenya.
In the two decades since, Madut has found his home and made his way to America, higher education and the American Dream.
“I want to thank all of you who have helped make this dream come true,” Madut said to the many Atlanta Habitat for Humanity volunteers who helped him build a home for his family. Among the volunteers were Georgia Perimeter College employees and students from GPC’s Leadership Academy.
“Community service is an important component of the Leadership Academy,” says Sarah Vaughan, Leadership Academy program coordinator. Vaughan organized her students to measure, cut, hammer and contribute to the home of their fellow student.
To attend Georgia Perimeter, Madut took advantage of GPC’s Lost Boys Scholarship established by the Atlanta-based Lost Boys Foundation.
“The Lost Boys were focused on education and referred to it as their ‘mother and father,’” says Susan Sabsowitz, former program director of the Lost Boys Foundation and Madut’s mentor. “They would ask, ‘When are we going to school to get our education?’ We decided to set up the scholarship and we felt these young men would best be served by a two-year college with an English as a Second Language program like GPC.”
During the 1980s civil war in Sudan, an estimated 30,000 young people, mostly males, were orphaned by village massacres. They wandered hundreds of miles from Sudan to Ethiopia, finding temporary safety in refugee camps. But then they had to flee war in Ethiopia, trekking back through the Sudan to refuge in Kenya. They walked for more than a year in total, and thousands died along the way. Some were shot by enemy forces; some starved; others were victims of wild animals. Madut is one of 12,000 who survived.
“At the time we struggled in the jungle, you saw people die, and all you knew was death,” Madut recalls. “You became consumed with worry about dying, hunger and thirst. I was afraid of dying and there’d be no one there to bury me. There was no other option but death, so you just kept on walking.”
By early 2000 the United States agreed to allow 4,000 of the Lost Boys to settle in cities across America. Madut was one of 150 that landed in Atlanta.
Atlanta volunteers assisted the new arrivals, forming the Lost Boys Foundation, which helped the young men adjust to modern society and enroll in various English literacy programs. The foundation helped them find jobs and provided access to GPC through the Lost Boys Scholarship.
Madut’s wife and young son have joined him in his Habitat home.
Madut has come a long way—he has obtained U.S. citizenship—but he says his journey is far from over.
“I have to be happy now,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of support, and that comes as encouragement. You don’t want to let yourself down or let other people down.”