William Makuet is lost no longer. A member of southern Sudan's Nuer tribe, Makuet was forced from his thatched hut, at age 11, by men wielding machine guns. Permanently separated from his family, he became one of Sudan's "Lost Boys."
In the mid-1980s, war forced an estimated 20,000 Sudanese boys, ages 4 to 17, to flee their villages. Many saw their parents murdered. Others saw their friends succumb to starvation, drowning and attacks by wild animals. Only one-third survived a 1,000-mile, three-nation journey to a Kenyan refugee camp.
Makuet's journey brought him to Phoenix three years ago. He's among the nearly 4,000 Sudanese refugees who have been resettled in the U.S., nearly 400 of them in the Valley. Makuet -- along with several other Lost Boys -- shares his story this Thursday, August 12, at Tempe's Changing Hands Bookstore.
When Makuet, now approximately 25 (he's unsure of his age, as he has no documents to prove his birthdate), arrived at Sky Harbor Airport, he had only the clothes he was wearing and papers allowing him to work in the U.S. Each morning, he boarded a bus to Rio Salado Community College, where he took ESL classes. In the afternoon, he attended Creighton High School to work toward his GED.
This spring, Makuet graduated from Gateway Community College with an associate's degree in general studies. Now studying political science at ASU, Makuet believes that people need to learn to solve problems with their minds, rather than with physical force. He's undecided on his future career, but says, "I love debating, and I love helping people."
Three months ago, he married a woman from Kenya; their first baby is on the way. The couple lives in an apartment in downtown Scottsdale, and Makuet works as a front desk agent and night auditor in a nearby hotel. In addition to his full-time job, he volunteers, teaching ESL classes two days a week to African refugees -- and thrives on "everyday learning." "I don't take anything for granted," he says. "I work very hard."
While he flourishes in the U.S., Makuet is unsure of his family's survival in Sudan. No phone lines stretch to his village of Mankien, population 1,000. He knows that an uncle was killed when fighting broke out, but he's unsure of the fate of his parents, two brothers and sister.
And though he looks forward to earning citizenship in his new nation -- many of the Lost Boys refer to America as a "second heaven" -- Makuet eventually wants to return to Sudan to educate and assist his countrymen. He says that discrimination -- the fact that tribal peoples often are seen as unenlightened "animals" -- feeds the violence still ravaging parts of Africa.
The Lost Boys appear at Changing Hands in part to raise awareness and funds for The Lost Boys and Girls National Conference and Reunion, set for August 26 through 29 at the Phoenix Civic Plaza Convention Center. The young men will sell traditional Sudanese pottery, including handmade clay cows, to help sponsor some of the 1,000 Sudanese from across the U.S. expected to attend the conference (see www.lostboysevent2004.org).