"I stayed in the Kakuma camp for many years and started
my education. I soon learned how it goes in the refugee camp. Education
is fine, but the food is not enough, only one half cup of corn meal
a day. So you must choose. If you don't want an education you can
have a business for your survival. If you want education you must
live on the little bit of food that is given and eat only once a
day. It is your choice whether you eat in the morning and stay hungry
for the whole day or eat in the afternoon. My cousins and I managed
this. We went to school and ate once a day in the evening. But reading
was really difficult because there was a certain cloud because of
hunger. It's black when you look at the words in the book. The black
covers the words and you can't see because of that color in your
eyes from the hunger."
Benjamin Ajak was born in 1982 in a village in Southern Sudan. His
parents were pastoralists and subsistence farmers who raised cattle
until a civil war broke out between Northern and Southern Sudan.
In 1987 Benjamin's village was attacked. To escape death or induction
into the Muslim army, at the age of five years, Benjamin fled alone
into the night. Several days later he found his cousins, Benson
and Lino, seven years old, and they joined the exodus that became
twenty thousand boys fleeing a thousand miles across Africa's largest
country. Facing lions, crocodiles and starvation, only a half survived,
made it into Ethiopia, and became known to the world as The Lost
The Lost Boys remained in Ethiopia for three years. In a fall from
a tree, Benjamin sustained a serious leg wound and a piece of wood
remained lodged in the bone, causing an infection that refused to
heal. When a civil war broke out in Ethiopia they were run out of
the country at gunpoint and forced to swim the Gilo River where
two thousand lives were claimed by shooting, drowning or crocodiles.
The boys began the trek back across Sudan scavenging for food and
dodging bombings, and all the other hazards they'd faced before.
Benjamin, his leg even more seriously infected now, and his cousins
Alepho, Benson and Lino were captured by the rebel army and taken
to a training camp in the Natinga Mountains. Benjamin escaped, was
captured and jailed. Each day he was caned in the morning and evening
until five months later he escaped again, this time successfully.
Another long walk through deserts and mountains led him to Kakuma
Refugee Camp, a barren wasteland in northern Kenya, but the safest
place he'd been in years. The education in Kakuma was excellent.
Benjamin studied English, math, science and history, but food was
scarce, about one half cup of ground corn a day and the supply was
often exhausted or stolen before the next ration. Benjamin remained
in Kakuma from 1992 until 2001.
On September 11, 2001 Benjamin's first glimpse of America outside
his plane window was the World Trade Towers on fire. His plane was
diverted to Canada and he arrived two weeks later in San Diego.
Since then Benjamin has explored many opportunities in America,
from a wrapper at the Hillcrest Ralphs Grocery Store to a part in
the Russell Crowe/Peter Weir movie, "Master and Commander."
Holding a Class A licnese, from behind the wheel of an 18 wheeler,
Benjamin has seen all 48 states. He now resides in San Diego and
speaks full time to organizations and schools, sharing his amazing
life and insights into surviving as a child of war and a newcomer
to the U.S.