Anyone fortunate enough to be living the privileged “Westside” lifestyle would be hard-pressed to imagine their three-year-old son or grandson, together with his six-year-old brother, fleeing for their lives. Locals, who drive their precious children around in SUV’s, BMW’s or Mercedes-Benz’s, could not possibly contemplate them walking over 1,000 extremely dangerous miles without adult supervision, until they reached the temporary safety of a refugee camp.
This extraordinary nightmare began in 1983 when the fundamentalist government in Khartoum declared Shirah law on all of The Sudan, which required conversion to Islam on pain of death. The eight million Sudanese of the south refused to abandon their religious convictions and persecution and genocide followed, with an intense wave hitting all the southern villages from 1985-87 and then again in 1991-95. Villages were burned, water poisoned, young girls were enslaved and 2.5 million people massacred.
With their families killed or captured and their homes destroyed, over 40,000 boys, who escaped the genocide because they were away from their villages tending their sheep, started walking to Ethiopia where they stayed in exile until the Sudanese government made a deal with Ethiopia to force them to leave. Once more they fled. Walking for over three months, thousands died of starvation, thirst and attacks by lions or crocodiles, while scores drowned in the Gilo River or were killed when the Sudanese militia caught them. Eventually, over 17,000 children walked into Kenya into what would become the largest refugee camp in the world – Kakuma, with 76,000 people, mostly boys.
Today, the continuing work of resettling these orphans is being carried on by Rev. Jerry Drino, Director of Hope With Sudan located in San Jose. The organization was founded in 2004 by 70 young Sudanese adults in an effort to raise funds to provide tuition and living expenses for their younger siblings and other orphans that remained in exile in Africa. Today, San Jose and San Diego are home to nearly 4,000 Sudanese refugees, many of whom are the once-called “Lost Boys/Girls of Sudan.” Less than 100 girls have been resettled in America due to the politics of the State Department.
To support Rev. Drino’s important mission, Rev. Hartshorn Murphy of St. Augustine-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church on 4th Street turned over his beautiful garden to a group of politically-minded local artists who donated selected works to benefit Sudanese orphans. Said Rev. Murphy: “I knew of the work Jerry was doing and I wanted to help.” The participating artists included Julie Bagish, Barbara Blatt, Gail Breuer, Terri Bromberg, Judith Carr, Hugh Hamilton, Carol Kleinman, Victoria Montgomery, Marla Murphy and Ahuva Poznansky.
Father’s Drino’s strong conviction that “the hope that resides in these children must be supported through education” received a little boost at the end of the day; $3,350 was raised to provide tuition, books, uniforms and other resources for 34 children, half the total number of kids he hoped to help. It should be noted that he does not get a salary, everyone involved in this project volunteers their time and “all monies go to the charity except for the cost of printing and postage.”
Rev. Drino took pause for a moment and said, “Despite the unspeakable hardships these children have been through, they are mostly optimistic. When you hit ground zero, you can either give up and die or begin to dream about a future in which you can make a difference.”
For more information, contact 408.259.2111, firstname.lastname@example.org or hopewithsudan.org.