Lost Boy Delivers
By Beatrice Huguet
Corsair Staff Writer
March 05, 2008
Lost Boy of Sudan Benjamin Ajak speaks at the Clocktower on February 28. The event had to be moved outside due to an unexpected large turnout.
(Photo by Art Sanchez/Corsair Staff) Santa Monica City College
A riot almost occurred outside Art 214 this past Thursday, as many upset students were denied entrance five minutes before Benjamin Ajaks speech. The door was locked to the sold-out event.
Ajak is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan who had to leave his home at the age of 5 to escape the attack of government troops on his village during the Sudanese civil war in 1987.
He endured, along with hundreds of other young boys, a thousand mile journey through Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and finally America.
When Benson Deng, Ajaks cousin, came to speak at SMC over a year ago about his story, more than 150 students attended the event.
Ajaks speech on Thursday brought in a even bigger crowd, maybe partly because of a rising consciousness.The speeches he delivers across America, and the mission he has dedicated his life to, address crucial worldly issues related to the genocide in Darfur.
After an uprising from students locked outside the room, the entire event was moved moved outside to the grass behind the clock tower.
Just what took place before the commotion was an introduction to Ajak by Judy A. Bernstein and a brief showing of a 60 Minutes episode witnessing the departure and integration to the U.S. of many Sudanese refugees like Ajak as part of an International Refugee Relief Program.
As the chair of the Advisory Committee of the San Diego International Rescue Committee and co-founder of the I.R.C. Lost Boys Education Fund, Bernstein accompanies Ajak on his trips throughout America and works at raising awareness on the current genocide in Darfur.
She was one of the first to welcome Ajak and his cousins to America. She also co-wrote and edited the book They Poured Fire from The Sky with him and his two cousins.
I would say, without risking exaggeration, that Judys ability to assist Benjamin and his two cousins in their quest to write their story could be compared to the work of a doctor who advises a patient who is about to do surgery on himself and how to get beneath the scar tissue to operate on the memories of suffering and loss in order to turn it into art. said professor David Burak, an English teacher at SMC who organized Ajaks coming to campus.
According to her introduction in the book, on the boys first few days in the country, she drove them to a Wal-Mart and they bought what they thought they needed the most: pants and composition notebooks. They said that they would use them to write what they saw, and about Africa too.
Their first short stories about Africa, written in the English that they knew at the time turned, thanks to Bernsteins interest and support, into a moving and powerful American bestseller.
Sometimes it is hard for people to imagine why we need to worry about whats going on halfway across the world when we have so many problems here, she said standing in front of her audience in Art 214 before continuing with Martin Luther Kings words: but Injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere. As she finished her introduction, she said, I hope that you can see the significance that this presentation brings to our lives. Thank you for coming today, because the first step to taking the right action is awareness and education.
What followed was a few scenes from touching 60 minutes documentary about The Lost Boys of Sudan who were brought to America in 2001.
Every Sunday, a plane arrived in one of Kenyas refugee camp to bring about 100 refugees among thousands to the U.S. Their destinies were written on a bulletin board that they read each week with great anticipation, hoping for their names to be listed. The chosen few were contented and saved, but many were waiting week after week, still deceived, still unsafe.
Kenya to the United States: Those who arrived in America were thrown into a very strange and different world and had to learn how to become comfortable and familiar to a new way of living. The audience laughed as we saw the newcomers figure out how to use a vacuum cleaner, or eating half a butter stick with a fork. Even Ajak was smiling warmly, probably remembering his own transition into an unfamiliar world. How would we, used to vacuum cleaners, adjust to the African way of life? As the documentary ended, everyone gathered outside and Ajak started to voice his story in front of a large crowd, some sitting, some standing, many passing by and stopping.
Ajak said that he arrived to the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. The coincidence is frighteningly close to being a bad joke, but Ajak simply said: My expectations coming to you have been destroyed by 9/11. I thought the United States was a peaceful country, he said.
I thought I was gonna come here to live the perfect life, that
Im not gonna hear no war and hear no gunshots. Somewhere I see violence
And he added:
We wrote that book to, a least, educate some people here,
he said as the clock towers bells loudly sounded noon, which made
him look up and humorously (or seriously) ask the crowd:
Ajak came to bring an awareness to the current genocide in Darfur He explained that the government of Sudan is getting funding from the Chinese buying oil, which funding is then invested into military equipment that is used against the Sudanese people.
I am not an ambassador, I am not a teacher, but I am teaching you
what you dont know! said Ajak who had been speaking publicly
in the every 50 states of America for six years.
China is indeed being urged by the U.N. to stop its involvement in Sudan,
especially since they will host the Olympic games in Beijing this year
and have an even greater international responsibility to honor
According to Ajak, education is the power to everything in the
Later, when asked to give his opinion on the very serious matter of gang violence, Ajak explains that people become gang members because they follow their friends and the people that they are around and he doesnt think it has anything to do with their own family.
If I come around and kill you for no reason, how will you feel? he said feel yourself if youre hurt thats how other people feel. Your family is here to protect you what are you protecting with that gun in your hand?
And you know what else support gangs, He continued, The drugs that you consume made you loose it and made you think of violence and then you end up in jail .why would you want to be detained? ..you have a lot of things to do out here.
While Ajaks last words echoed on campus, the sun disappeared under
a cluster of gray cloud and the air grew noticeably colder as if it was
underlining the seriousness of the subject at hand.
His speech, which lasted about 20 minutes, was a great success. The audience
gave him a very long and loving applause and he quickly became buried
behind a mountain of people who rushed towards him to have their recently
bought copy of They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky signed.
I didnt expect it to be such a big turnout, said Shahriar
Azimi, a student at SMC.