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Lost Boy of Sudan Survives War, Crocodiles; Finds Welcoming Home at Central Missouri

Daniel Lazaro, a UCM student who is a Lost Boy of Sudan
One of the "Lost Boys of Sudan," Daniel Lazaro has conquered life's toughest hurdles enroute to becoming a student at UCM this fall.

Orphaned by a brutal civil war when he was only nine years old, Daniel Lazaro has overcome extraordinary strife on his way to finding a new home in the United States.

From the slaughter of people in his small Sudanese village to a life-threatening 1,000-mile trek, barefoot and often alone though jungle and desert, he is one of thousands of young men known worldwide as the “Lost Boys of Sudan.”


Country in Turmoil


Lazaro came to University of Central Missouri from Kansas City this fall to begin studying toward a degree in either computer science or aviation technology. He hopes to return eventually to southern Sudan as an American citizen to provide a helping hand for people he says continue to face political unrest, severe poverty and disease.

“There is peace, but it is not like people think it is,” he said, still struggling with his English speaking skills. “There are no jobs. They need clean water and medical clinics.”

This is despite a historic peace treaty signed earlier this year between the Sudanese government and a rebel army in the south. The treaty ended a long-standing war that began in 1983, pitting the country’s Arab and Muslim northern government largely against Christians and black tribes in the south.


Soldiers Invade His Village


Lazaro’s exodus from Sudan came in 1987 as northern soldiers began to move out of the larger communities and into places like Duk, a small rural village where he and his family lived. The soldiers shot and killed men and older boys and took away the young girls and women. Lazaro fled for his life.

Lost Boys of Sudan
After surviving a harrowing trek across hundreds of miles of desert, an estimated 11,000 "Lost Boys" found the protection of the United Nations. They crossed the Sudan border into Kenya and were taken to a Kakuma refugee camp, where they spent the next nine years waiting for an end to their country's civil war. Photo by B. Press/UNHCR

His extraordinary journey across Africa took him on foot to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, back to Sudan, then to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. His formal education began there in 1992 while living amongst some 65,000 refugees from seven African nations.

He’s one of an estimated 11,000 young men who became known as the “lost boys” because of the way they had to fend for themselves without assistance from their parents or elders, many of whom were killed. Lazaro shares his story of determination and how he banded together with other lost boys in an essay he wrote as a TRIO program student in UCM’s Department of Academic Enrichment.

In that work he recalls his first encounter with five other young orphans he saw hiding in trees after he spent the first three weeks alone traveling at night to avoid gunfire and wild animals. All of the boys were on the way to Ethiopia.

“Even though I did not know their names, we started introducing ourselves to each other as brothers. We joined and walked together for one month, taking care of each other until two guys had passed away.” One boy died of a snake bite, another of hunger. Those who remained forged ahead in search of a safe haven.


Surviving with Nothing


“We did not have any food, water, or even clothes and shoes,” he adds. “We just ate the leaves of trees or mud and drank urine to keep us alive. We started finding the dead bodies of other boys for many reasons: scorpion stings, poisonous trees, and no water, not even wet mud in the area. The place was desert with few trees.”

Although he found refuge in Ethiopia after three months, he and other Sudanese lost boys were forced to flee this country three years later when civil war broke out. Chased out by rebel troops, thousands of young men died at the River Gilo on their way back to Sudan. Many drowned in the swift current. Others were eaten by crocodiles or shot by rebel forces, according to Lazaro. “Those who survived the river crossing walked for more than a year from Sudan to Kenya,” he says.


New Life as UCM Student


In 2001, the U.S. government allowed nearly 4,000 of the lost boys to come to America. Lazaro arrived in Kansas City in 2001 and was placed with three other roommates while spending a year at Penn Valley Community College. Today, at approximately 28 years old (there are no records of his birth), he has begun a new life as a student at UCM. He still fends for himself, trying to overcome a language barrier, and surviving on college grants and student loans.

His remarkable story, along with his quiet, unassuming nature, and resilience have already touched the hearts of some of his faculty members. One of them is Barbara Rhodes, an educational adviser for TRIO Student Support Services, who said it’s unfortunate that most people are not aware of what is going on in Sudan.

She said, “We all live such a protected life. Daniel’s life story gives us all an opportunity to recognize that for most of us, our world view is somewhat naïve and extremely limited and that we are sadly ignorant of what is happening in the rest of the world.” 

Meanwhile, Lazaro keeps looking optimistically toward the day when he can return home.

“I have never forgotten my people, nor will I ever forget about my country. Whoever is still there continues to suffer from hunger, disease, dehydrations and war. We cannot let Sudan down.”

By Jeff Murphy '76 hs, '80, '95