Members can sign in here.

About the Author

Hanna Clarys
Student (Antwerp, Belgium)

Current Study: Political Sciences at Antwerp University. Likes: reading, writing and drawing. Activities: discovering the world step by step. Dream: becoming a war journalist somewhere in the distant future...



Published 21st July 2010 - 4 comments - 11507 views -

Sudan's civil war of 1983-2005 made 30.000 boys homeless. They faced dangers, hunger and death in their Long Walk from the Sudan to Ethiopia and Kenya. I will try to tell their story in this blog - with a little help from Valentino Achak Deng and Dave Eggers. Many thanks to "What is the What".


"The little man suddenly moderated his tone. I looked around the corner and saw that the other man had lowered his rifle. And then, without any visible emotion, he kicked in my father’s face. At that moment something snapped inside of me. I could feel it, there was no doubt. It felt as if there was a bundle of taut strings inside me that was holding me together – my brains, my heart and my legs – and at that moment one of those thin and fragile ropes was broken."

That day in 1987 the life of 6-year-old Valentino Achak Deng changed forever. That day the rebels appeared in Marial Bai, a Dinka village in the South of Sudan. It became in war with itself; a village that both the rebels and the government wanted. There were no more football games, the school closed its doors. Rebels came at night to steal everything they could get their hands on, in the daytime army soldiers patrolled in the village.




"Have you ever seen your mother being terrified? No child should ever see that. You lose your youth immediately when you see your mother’s pale face, and the hopeless look in her eyes. When she’s being crushed in front of you by the threat which she knows is approaching. When she doesn’t believe she can still save you."

One hour later the murahaleen (Arab militias supported by the government) disappeared and the raid on his village was over; Achak didn’t know where his family was and everything had been destroyed. He left his village, wandered around in the jungle and eventually joined the Lost Boys, who were trying to reach Ethiopia’s refugee camps. But it was nothing like the Peter Pan story.

"A lot of boys in the group were beginning to act strange. One boy didn’t want to sleep anymore. He refused to sleep for days, because he always wanted to see what was going on, which dangers might be threatening us. Eventually he was left behind in a village, where a woman took him in her arms. He fell asleep five minutes later. Another boy dragged a stick in the ground and drew a line in the sand, so that he could find the way back home someday. A boy called Ajing did something else: he kept all the food he had in a shirt and ate from it only once a day. He was preparing for many weeks of hunger. Most of the boys, however, just walked without talking, because there was nothing to say."


lost boys


It took several months of hunger, thirst and fear before the Lost Boys reached the Ethiopian border.

"When Deng had died, I decided not to speak anymore. I talked to no one. Deng was the first, but soon more boys died and there was no time to bury them anymore. Most boys died of malaria, hunger or infections. Boys who got sick had to walk alone; the others were afraid it was contagious and they didn’t want to get to know them too well because they would die soon. We didn’t want to hear their voices in our heads."

Achak stayed in Pinyudo – a refugee camp in Ethiopia, where he learned to read and write – for 3 years. 40.000 people found shelter there until that country was struck by a civil war itself. At that time 10 years old, Achak had to run again. Back into the Sudan, to Kakuma camp in Kenya. Eight years later he became one of the camp’s teachers. Eventually he had the opportunity to go study in the U.S., where he’s still living these days.




Whatever I am going to do, no matter how I will live on, I will tell my story. It gives me strength to know that you are around. I can reach your eyes, your ears, I can bridge the distance between you and me. We are blessed to have each other! I am alive and you are too, so we have to fill the air with our words. How could I pretend that you are not existing? That is almost as impossible as it is for you to pretend I am not here.

Around 30.000 boys wandered in the Sudan during the civil war that started in 1983 and officially ended in 2005; only 11.000 of them survived. Valentino Achak Deng is just one of them. In the video underneath two others talk about being a Lost Boy.





With the money raised through his autobiography ‘What is the What’ written by author Dave Eggers – from which I used excerpts to tell this story -, the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation invested in a secondary school in Marial Bai.


what is the what


Although civil war in Sudan is officially said to be over, Darfur – a province in the west of Sudan - is still torn between rebel movements and government army/militias. There are over 2.6 million internally displaced Darfuri people and 250.000 refugees living in camps in Chad. And although the 2009 Kampala Convention provides a legal framework for the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons in theory, in practice there are still many Lost Boys wandering across Africa's deserts and jungles.


Category: Crisis | Tags:


  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 22nd July 2010:

    Heartbreaking Hanna. I can’t imagine the lives of children who experience this. Their lives are changed forever. The impact lingers…

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 22nd July 2010:

    I forgot to say that the photos are gripping…

  • Hanna Clarys on 22nd July 2010:

    Thanks Iris.
    What I find most striking is how young they were. A 6-year-old child is really really little and helpless…
    When I look at a photograph from myself being six, I just can’t imagine me surviving that walk.

  • Luan Galani on 22nd July 2010:

    A touching story that moved me. I’ve heard about this before, but it is always so heartbreaking. Thanks for this. Nice post, nice photos.

Post your comment

  • Remember my personal information

    Notify me of follow-up comments?

    --- Let's see if you are human ---

    What is the fourth word of this sentence? Add a questionmark to your answer. (7 character(s) required)