August 22nd, 2011 | Published in Google Books
Recently, John Dau spoke as part of the Authors@Google speaker’s series about his latest book, God Grew Tired of Us, and the similarly named award-winning documentary based on his life. He recounted his journey as a lost boy of Sudan from the age of 13, when his village was first attacked by Northern armies, through his journey to the United States. Dau calls his remarkable life story a living testimony because "the story goes from me to you and then from you to someone else..."
The video above shows Dau being interviewed on-stage as part of the Authors@Google series
At the beginning of his talk, Dau proudly announced that with the recent creation of the Republic of South Sudan, he is now a South Sudanese citizen. He then began to tell his story:
Dau grew up in a small village with no school. But he remembers being very happy. Then in 1987, his village was attacked. The whistling of bullets, thunder of bombs, and fearful screams woke him and his brother from their sleep. Dau recounted how he and his brother hid, and then fled the village, walking for three days without food or water.
As they fled, many other lost boys joined their group until it grew to 27. To survive, the boys were forced to eat mud and drink their urine. Many perished.
Once in Ethiopia the four remaining boys met other groups of lost children. They all banded together to organize a makeshift refugee camp. In total, there were 200 boys ranging from ages 5 to 18. But disease and malaria ran rampant, and without a clinic nearby, two to eight boys would die each day.
They stayed there for four years until in 1991, the Ethiopian government was overthrown and the new ruling party forced them to leave, along with thirty-seven thousand other refugees. They were given only three days' notice before armed troops forced the people to cross a crocodile-infested river.
Dau and other survivors then traveled through South Sudan. They faced bombings by Northern rebels, starvation, thirst and poor hygiene. Soon they found Kakooma, a United Nations refugee camp. Dau was now 17 years old and went to school for the first time. Due to the school's limited supplies, children would draw their responses in the dirt when taking exams.
Reflecting on his first time in school, Dau stated, "Education is so important and you can get anything you want [through learning]". He recounted how he would line up to enter the refugee camp's library at three in the morning every day, and how hard everyone worked to get into the fourth grade, since it was only then that they were allowed to sit in a classroom with shared pencils and notebooks.
Dau was 26 when the Americans came to take the refugee youth to Nairobi. He was selected to go to the US, where he could rebuild his life. However, he was surprised by many things in America such as the vast amounts of food and the pet aisle in a grocery store. Eventually he adjusted. Dau earned his Associate’s degree in 2004 and then his bachelor’s degree at Syracuse University in 2006.
In 2006 Dau founded the Lost Boys Rebuilding Southern Sudan nonprofit group so that the lost boys could learn to help themselves. He also founded American Care for Sudan, which raised enough money to build a clinic and has treated over 60,000 people. This clinic in South Sudan has the only ambulance in the country and is one of only six places in the entire country to have wireless internet.
Dau's message in an inspiring one: to never give up, no matter what has happened in the past.
Dau holding a Google eBook version of God Grew Tired of Us