Tuesday, July 06, 2004


The lost boys may appear to live dangerously but they are getting very serious about their new life in Australia.

The civil war in Sudan orphaned 30,000 youths, among whom were “the lost boys”. The term refers to the 20,000 or so children, mostly boys, between 7 and 17 years of age who were separated from their families. They flee the violence by swimming through crocodile invested waters and sleeping in dense tropical forests full of armed troops and wild animals.

The lost boys have found their way to Australia, primarily due to the new sensibility in Australia’s refugee policy; and the recent increase in refugee intake based on humanitarian considerations.

Most of the lost boys are so young they are incapable of managing their own affairs. They live from hand to mouth, not caring about the future. Others are well-adjusted to the new socio-cultural environment, and quite conscious of their own identity.

Nevertheless, living on the fringe can be a tough proposition; especially for the lost boys. But the Africans think they have found a practical solution. Indeed, a new philosophy that sees education as the key to success has been adopted in the emerging African communities here. “Working and studying” has become the new mantra, widely seen as the road to progress.

Jur Deng Jur, 22, is a lost boy made good. He is a shinning example of what could be accomplished through discipline and hard-work. As a student of engineering at the university of South Australia, Jur has everything to live for. “My greatest ambition is to finish the engineering degree” he says, “so that I can get a good job and help others who are less fortunate”.

He sees a bright future in Australia and appears to be extremely patriotic: “I have been a refugee all my life” he says, with a great deal of emotion; now “I’m proud to be called an Australian citizen”. Quite frankly, Jur has admitted that Australia is the only country in the world that has given him what amounts to full citizenship rights.

A similar sentiment is expressed by Mamer, 17, who is still in high school and plans to go to the university to study law. Like Jur, Mamer likes the lifestyle in South Australia; and sees real value in education as the way forward for the new generation of Africans in Australia. Both appear to be well focused, with a strong determination to succeed.

Indeed, Jur is a lucky man with a great deal of personal integrity and courage. He is hard-working and conscientious; and believes he can “make it” in Australia. This reminds me of some of the important home truths about the position of African refugees in Australia; namely, that all refugees are not equal; and that some are more equal than others.

Unfortunately, some of the lost boys are still in limbo; they have completely lost their way in the new country. As one said to me recently: “life in Australia is very strange…it’s really very new to us. We are so confused”. And overwhelmed by loneliness and fear.

Some are so young and inexperienced that, they can’t even cope with little things like paying the bills. Without parental influence, they don’t have the discipline required to lead a successful life. They don’t know where to start; and how to manage their finances. Mobile phone debt and accumulation of debts from friends have become a big problem and the main source of interpersonal conflict.

It seems to me that what the lost boys need most is the “Guardian Angel”, a mentoring program that can guide them, ever so gently, through the labyrinth of an increasingly complex society. Such a program must address the real needs of the target group and must be culturally sensitive.

There are important lessons to be learnt from today’s post: understanding the predicament of the lost boys gives us a new perspective on Australian society; and an insight into the human condition.

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