Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Bringing hope to his homeland

As an 8-year-old, Augustino Ting Mayai didn’t ask God for a
new bike, a homerun or an A on his spelling quiz. He asked God to keep him

When his village in southern Sudan was attacked nearly 20
years ago, Mayai became one of thousands of young boys to flee their war-ridden
homes and walk hundreds of miles to safety, many never to see their families
again. As word spread about these young refugees, they soon became known
internationally for their hardships as the “Lost Boys of Sudan.”

After living in a Kenyan refugee camp for nearly 10 years,
Mayai was selected by the U.S. government to resettle in the United States in


Today, as a doctoral student in sociology at the University
of Wisconsin, Mayai and several fellow “lost boys” are finding ways
to help bring hope and lasting change to their homeland. Through the Machara
Miracle Network, a nonprofit organization they founded in 2006, these young men
hope to help improve the quality of life for those who continue to struggle in
the wake of civil war.

“The fact that I was able to survive all these
tragedies that I went through, and the fact that I was able to go to school and
get a bachelor’s degree and now I’m trying to get a Ph.D. through individuals
that came and said, ‘We will support you and make sure that you reach your
goals’ — I feel like I could do the same and give back that way,” Mayai
said. “As I have been helped, I could also help my community.”

Although southern Sudan is currently isolated from the
violence in Darfur, the region continues to reel from the 21-year-long civil
war that left more than two million dead and forced approximately four million
into refuge.

“It’s hard to overemphasize how devastated the area
is,” said UW assistant political science professor Scott Straus.
“There are so few roads, no telephone landlines, [it is] very difficult to
get access to clean water, very difficult to get access to electricity. It’s
one of the poorest regions and most destroyed regions of the world.”

Through the Machara Miracle Network, Mayai hopes to raise
funds to help fix some of these widespread problems regarding health, education
and economy within his community of 50,000 in Apuk Padoc.


Living without

“It wasn’t my choice to leave,” Mayai said,
remembering the day he was chased from his home by northern armies. “Many
places were being attacked randomly. … In some cases you would just run off
and never have a chance to see your family again. I never got to say

Throughout the brutal north-south civil war that began in
1983, the north destroyed the south through a variety of means, according to
Straus. The north would often carpet-bomb wide areas and send armed militias to
destroy southern villages, often killing many and capturing children to be
brought north as slaves, he said.

“When the northern forces would raid areas, people
would flee for safety,” Straus said. “Oftentimes children — their
houses were destroyed, their parents were killed — tried to find a way out to
one of the neighboring countries. They had nothing left.”

After joining up with a group of approximately 3,000 boys he
had never met before somewhere outside his village, Mayai began the nearly
800-mile-long journey to safety.

“The thought was ‘I am going to die or survive, and I
don’t know how I’m going to make it,'” Mayai said. “The chances of
surviving all depended on the chances that were randomly coming along. You
survived today because you survived.”

Mayai said he vividly remembers the journey years ago,
trekking hundreds of miles across Africa without food and clean water.
Approximately 30,000 young boys were forced to flee their homes in the late
1980s and set out on foot to find safety, and nearly half of them died along
the journey, mostly due to starvation and dehydration.

“If we needed anything to drink, it would be water from
stagnant pools, the dirty water that was available,” Mayai said, adding
that the boys scavenged for roots and leaves of plants to provide nourishment.
“Some even reported having drank their own urine because they did not have
access to water.”

Today in Apuk Padoc, health issues caused by unclean water
continue to plague Mayai’s community. Only six water wells serve the entire
population of 50,000, leaving more than 80 percent of the population drinking
from stagnant pools often infected with parasites, Mayai said. The area also
has only one health care unit located in the region’s capital.

“If you had to change something for [Sudan] to be
better, you have to look into their health conditions that they currently
experience,” Mayai said.

Approximately one in 10 children born today in southern
Sudan die before the age of 5, according to UNICEF. Additionally, more than 20
million people lack access to sanitation and 17 million are without safe
drinking water.

Mayai hopes to eliminate the diseases caused by unclean
water by raising funds through the Machara Miracle Network to drill clean water
wells and build new health clinics in southern Sudan. According to Mayai’s
research, one $5,000 donation to the organization could pay for a new well that
would bring clean water to over 1,400 people in his community.


‘A coping strategy’

After years of long walks, makeshift camps and
near-starvation, Mayai and his fellow “lost boys” eventually found
their way to Kenya, where Mayai stayed for nearly 10 years in a refugee camp.

With Kenya’s political stability and strong educational
system, Mayai was able to go to school throughout his time there, studying a
variety of subjects such as math, science, English and history.

Yet even so, life in the Kenyan refugee camp was not without
its hardships. Mayai still had heard no word about his family back at home and
had to live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether his mother and father,
and brothers and sisters had made it out alive.

“I actually thought of going back to Sudan in ’96 to
look for my family, but I got scared,” Mayai said. “Two things
stopped me from doing that. One is the need for education — which was available
to us in Kenya — and also the fact that there was a continuum of civil
conflict in [Sudan].”

With only one meal a day for years, Mayai said he would
force himself to study through both breakfast and lunch to help drive away the

“I guess I would call it a coping strategy,” Mayai
said. “The hunger itself hurt a lot if you didn’t do something else. So
for me, as an individual, it was better to do something that was useful, and
that is studying and getting knowledge.”

Education has indeed proved a powerful force in Mayai’s

When he was selected by the U.S. government to resettle in
Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2001, Mayai continued his studies at Salt Lake
Community College and the University of Utah, where he earned a bachelor’s
degree in sociology. Mayai continues to pursue his studies today through the
doctoral program at UW.

While the story of the “lost boys” appears dismal
on the surface, his opportunities for education alone have helped Mayai find
meaning in his plight and purpose to his survival.

“A majority of people who stayed in Sudan never had a
chance to go to school,” Mayai said. “Maybe that was the way that God
wanted to rescue southern Sudan. Maybe this way we were able to have an
opportunity that we never would have had, had we stayed in southern

Mayai said the Machara Miracle Network is currently working
to provide training to Sudanese teachers and scholarships for Sudanese students
to attend schools abroad, so that they may one day return to Sudan and
“become better teachers for their own people.”


Home at last

After nearly 20 years away, Mayai finally made the journey
home to his village in southern Sudan in the summer of 2006.

Gripped with both fear and excitement, Mayai hardly knew
what to expect of his now distant homeland.

“After so many years, [I was] going back to find out
what had happened to the family that I knew nothing about,” Mayai said.
“But another part of it was going back home, a place you called home that
you had lost for so long, and there was also a hope that you would be able to
find some life, some family members, which would be an exciting thing.”

Upon arrival, Mayai first encountered his nephew, who was
only two years old when Mayai was forced to flee as a child. Then other cousins
appeared, and more cousins. Finally, his brother.

“It was such a relief to see that part of me was still
in Sudan,” Mayai said, smiling. “We talked for hours and hours and
hours trying to catch up.”

Although Mayai learned his parents had died soon after he
fled home years ago, he was reunited with four sisters and one brother who had
scattered throughout Sudan during the civil war.

During his stay that summer, Mayai was inspired to find ways
to help his war-torn homeland, which has spent nearly 10 years in internal
armed conflict since independence in 1956.

“As an individual or human, we all have a moral
obligation to sort of step in and try to help other more than 500 books to
local schools with the help of both private donations and funds raised by
Action in Sudan — a student group at UW working for change in Sudan.

According to Action in Sudan’s co-president, UW sophomore
Rebecca Gilsdorf, the group raises money exclusively for the Machara Miracle
Network because it can work closely with Mayai to ensure their funds are used

“We can really see directly what we’re doing, rather
than just giving [our funds] to an NGO and not knowing where the money’s
going,” Gilsdorf said.

Already this school year, Action in Sudan has raised nearly
$1,500 for the Machara Miracle Network through benefit concerts and selling
T-shirts and fair trade African art. With Action in Sudan’s help, the Machara
Miracle Network strives to collect $500,000 for its many projects within the
next five years alone.

Through such funds, Mayai said he hopes the Machara Miracle
Network can help create a stable, healthy and self-sustaining community within
southern Sudan.

“We are supporting the community,” Mayai said.
“But we are making it theirs.”

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