Lost Boys Find Richmond 

Sudanese plight detailed in new book reflects the experience of a refugee in Richmond.

The experiences of the young men in Bixler's book are nearly identical to that of Maker Marial, one of 125 Lost Boys who settled in Richmond at the same time as those in Atlanta. He and Jennifer Ernst, the volunteer who has helped him and other local Lost Boys, hope Bixler's book will inspire others to help the Lost Boys achieve their goals.

Like Bixler's subjects, Marial says that when he was a young child, he walked for three months and crossed hundreds of miles to get to safety in Ethiopia after an attack on his village in southern Sudan separated him from his family in 1987.

In his research, Bixler found that thousands of boys, some as young as 5, faced bombing, shootings, starvation, drowning and animal attacks as they wandered for months across eastern Africa after being separated from their families. Thousands died along the way, and those who survived spent more than a decade languishing in refugee camps before a small minority was allowed to immigrate to the United States.

Arriving in America with nothing more than a strong Christian faith and a driving desire to get an education, Marial and the young men in Bixler's book faced a new world where everything from flush toilets to food and telephones daunted them. Resettlement agencies provided initial rudimentary services, but according to Bixler, it is the volunteers who took the refugees under their wings who have enabled the Lost Boys to establish themselves successfully.

Richmond-area volunteer Jennifer Ernst says she spends 40 hours a week working with Marial and other Lost Boys. She has assisted them with everything from medical problems, driver's licenses and employment to their highest priority — pursuing an education. Marial, who works 30 hours a week and attends J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College full time, intends to go to law school and become a human rights lawyer to help people in Sudan and elsewhere.

Bixler hopes that his book will shed light not only on the challenges faced by the Lost Boys, but on the desperate situation in Sudan that he says is too often dismissed as a religious conflict. He says that if the peace agreement reached in January holds, the Lost Boys in America will face their first real opportunity to help rebuild their country. Bixler encourages people to help them prepare for this challenge by donating to Lost Boy education funds like the one he established in Atlanta or the Hope for Humanity Foundation in Richmond. S

Mark Bixler will read from his book "The Lost Boys of Sudan: An American Story of the Refugee Experience" Tuesday, April 26, at 6:30 p.m. at the Fountain Bookstore.

The Hope for Humanity Foundation is holding a Walk for Sudan May 1 at 2 p.m. at Deep Run High School to raise money to support construction and operation of a secondary school in southern Sudan. To volunteer for the nonprofit, call Jennifer Ernst at 360-2705.

Visit www.lostboysbook.com for links to numerous organizations and to donate to the education fund established by Bixler.

Letters to the editor may be sent to: letters@styleweekly.com


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