By Dahleen Glanton Tribune national correspondent
Gabriel Boul was 7 when he last saw his mother. She was on the floor
of their home in Sudan, bound and gagged. Nearby, Boul's father, an
older sister and a brother lay in a puddle of blood, slain by
militiamen who had raided their peaceful village.
Four years ago he landed in America, one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan,"
more than 3,500 young refugees who have made it out of the civil
war-torn country and resettled in cities such as Atlanta, Chicago and
Salt Lake City since 2000.
It was to be the start of a new life. But for Boul, 24, stories rarely
have a happy ending. He has liver cancer. Last week, he moved into a
Boul always wondered what happened to his mother. Surely, he thought,
she could not have survived the violence that left millions dead or
displaced in Sudan during the last two decades. But in September he
got an unexpected phone call, and the voice on the other end was his
mother, Atong Abor, whom he had not seen in 17 years.
"Neither one of us believed it was true," said Boul, a lanky young man
whose boyish face looks much younger than the age that refugee camp
workers put on his birth certificate. "I just held the phone while she
cried for 10 minutes."
The call, arranged by a friend who had tracked Boul's mother down in a
village in Sudan, was a remarkable gift for Boul, whose life has been
a series of hardships and triumphs. The only thing he wishes for now
is to see her face to face.
With war raging in Sudan, a country with limited diplomatic relations
with the U.S., getting his mother to this country is a challenge. But
that hasn't stopped his friends in Atlanta from trying.
They set up a fund at the Bank of America to accept donations for her
travel. They asked Sen. Saxby Chambliss R-Ga.) and former UN
Ambassador Andrew Young to help expedite a temporary visa. Chambliss'
office confirmed it is working on it.
"He is such a good, bright kid, and he deserves this wish," said Janis
Sundquist, an Atlanta volunteer, who developed a motherly bond with
Boul three years ago while helping him get settled. "Nothing is being
done to help the situation in Sudan, and these boys feel
forgotten. They feel like God has left them for some reason."
Doctors said Boul has only a few months to live. But for a man who has
spent his life overcoming odds, this is not news he is willing to
accept. There are too many other things to think about, he said, like
getting some warm clothes for the winter.
His graduation from Open Campus High School, an alternative public
school, is coming up in June. He has a job making salads at a
restaurant at the airport, and other young refugees in Africa are
waiting for the check he sends each month. And there's his dream to
return to Sudan and help the sick--as his father, a tribal doctor,
"He is very motivated and very ambitious," said Dr. Val Akopov, a
physician at Emory Crawford Long Hospital. "He was very curious about
all the things he was seeing in America, and it is no doubt that he
would have been successful here. He has overcome so much, and
embracing his mom would complete that circle."
Lying in his hospice bed, his frail body often curled up in pain, Boul
struggled to talk about the day his family was attacked. He and his
12-year-old brother had been tending cattle when he heard the
gunshots. When they got to the house, the militiamen were there.
They tied the boys up. They shot his brother as Boul watched. They
later left Boul in the house alone, deciding there was no need to kill
him because he was too young to survive without food or water. After
they left, a neighbor came and took him away.
Boul is one of some 26,000 Sudanese boys who fled the violence that
destroyed their villages in the late 1980s. He spent four years at a
refugee camp in Ethiopia before the boys were forced to return to
He was 11 when he and others walked more than 1,000 miles through the
desert, eating leaves, drinking dirty water and struggling to stay
alive for four months, as they made their way to a refugee camp in
Kenya. Their name, the "Lost Boys of Sudan," comes from the orphans
who followed Peter Pan.
Many of the refugees died along the way or after they arrived in
Kenya, where disease ravaged the camp.
The rescue program initiated by the United Nations and the State
Department began bringing the boys to the U.S. in 2000. The
resettlement program continues today.
Boul can't describe how it would feel to see his mother but said, "It
would be a great present for me."
In the meantime, morphine will ease the pain from the cancer. And Boul
will sleep and wait as long as he can. Even if she does not arrive in
time, she will be with him in his dreams, he said, just as she always
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