The African nation of Sudan is preparing for a crucial vote next month. The outcome could mean independence for the south -- or a return to the bloody civil war that killed millions of people during the 1980s and 1990s. One victim of that war is doing all he can to help his country move forward.
When Joseph Deng was just 10 years old, something happened that he will never forget. "It sounded like fireworks," Deng said. "I knew something was wrong. When the war came, it destroyed everything."
A member of the Dinka tribe in southern Sudan, he was one of the lost boys -- one of the refugees of a civil war that forced thousands of teens and children into exile -- and left as orphans. Homes were burned, adults were murdered, and girls and young women were raped and enslaved. Muslims killed Christians.
Hundreds in Deng's tribe lost their lives. He and about 25,000 boys were forced to live on their own. They hoped to get help from Ethiopia, which is located about 1,000 miles away. They started walking and their walk lasted for months with thousands dying along the way.
CBN News Senior Reporter Gary Lane reported extensively on the story of the lost boys of Sudan.
"The ones I ran into had just been wandering for months in the bush in south Sudan," Lane said. "And they were there at a feeding center that I visited so the conditions, many of them very thin, very malnourished and just looking for something to eat."
Deng survived and eventually came to America.
Today, he works as a nurse in St. Petersburg, Fla. He is determined to return to his homeland to help others.
"If I don't do anything to help the people of Southern Sudan, or I cannot help myself, why did God save me?" Deng asked. "I have to give back."
He has made three trips so far and hopes to open a clinic in southern Sudan to help villagers with basic health care needs.
"Just one packet of Imodium will save like five lives," Deng said.
Lane said many of the boys are believers, but are reluctant to return home.
"Many of their family members have been killed," Lane said. "Their homes are gone and there's poverty there and a very difficult situation in South Sudan so many of them have chosen to remain in the United States. Some have been here for more than 10 years and they're U.S. Citizens. So you choose the prosperity and the success in the U.S. compared to the poverty and hardship in Sudan, what would you choose?"
There's uncertainty that the fragile peace will hold and some fear that war could again break out between north and south.
"There's a key vote coming up on January 9 and many people believe the southern Sudanese will vote to secede from the North," Deng said. "If they do that many people feel that the north will go back to war again with the south because all the oil wealth is in the south. And many believe the north will not allow them to leave and take that wealth with them so there could be a return to violence."
For now, there's hope that the two sides can resolve their differences and prevent another generation of lost boys.