ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - In the 1980's, civil war
erupted in the African country of Sudan. Thousands of young men known as The Lost Boys had to fend for themselves. Some of those young men eventually made it to America and they have been here legally for almost 10 years now.
One of those young men is Joseph Deng. Deng's life story is something that is nearly impossible to comprehend. It is incredible that he is even alive to tell it. Deng grew up in Southern Sudan. He was a member of the Dinka tribe. It was a peaceful place until Arab troops from the north attacked his village. "It sounded like fireworks, I knew something was wrong," Deng said. Just ten at the time, Deng heard what he thought were fireworks at three in the morning. He shot out of bed and started to run. During the chaos, the little boy was separated from his family.
"When the war come, it destroy everything," Deng said.
Homes were burned, adults were murdered, and girls and young women were raped and enslaved. Deng and about 20,000 boys were on their own. They started to walk hoping they would get help in Ethiopia, which was about 1,000 miles away. "It was not easy, it was not easy," Deng said. Because of the desert heat, the boys often walked at night. Not a night went by without an animal attack. "It's terrifying," Deng said. "You are sleeping here and you hear the animal
roaring, crying next to you."
A photo shows him at a camp in Kenya with thousands of other lost boys. Deng spent years there before finding out he would be coming to America. "I opened it, it said congratulations, you are accepted to go to the United States, and it said I'm going to Florida," Deng said.
Another photo shows Deng getting his social security card. He and about 20 other young men ended up in New Port Richey. His first job was at Wendy's. Then while he went to school, he worked at Walmart.
Another photo Deng shared with us was from graduation day. Now Deng is a nurse in St. Petersburg.
A few years ago he became a citizen and father to Joseph Deng Jr.
His determination is truly admirable, and now he is determined to help others. "If I don't do anything to help the people of Southern Sudan, or I cannot help myself, why God save me?," Deng said. "I have to give back."
Deng shared with us home video when he returned to Sudan in 2008.
He was reunited with his parents, who thought he was dead. "Everyone in the family was crying," Deng said. Deng has made three trips back to Sudan and he plans to return each year with medical supplies. "Just one packet of Imodium will save like five lives," Deng said. He collects Imodium, gauze pads, Neosporin, Band Aids, asprin, rubbing alcohol, and Benadryl.
"I have a big heart," Deng said. Besides collecting supplies, the lost boy who is now a successful man wants to create a clinic, so that the people in his village and in surrounding ones can get basic care. "That's what I hope for the future, that I will have something that can help everybody, not just my village," Deng said.
Deng hopes that the next time you go to the store, you will think about buying some over the counter medicine to help his cause in Southern Sudan. Besides medicine, he also can take over Band Aids, gauze pads, and mosquito nets.