- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2008

joy, pride and hope for a bright future. But for Mr. Kuch, who graduated from Bryant & Stratton College in Syracuse, N.Y., the day meant much more. It was, in his words, “truly historic.”

That´s because Mr. Kuch´s graduation marked 25 years - to the day - since a day that foreshadowed a future devoid of all joy, pride and hope for him, his family and countrymen.

Peter Kuch (pronounced “Kush”) is one of about 4,000 Sudanese “lost boys” living in the United States. “Lost boys” is the name given by aid organizations to the more than 27,000 boys displaced or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War.

The first inklings of that war began in 1983, when Sudanese President Gaafar Nimeiry imposed Shariah law throughout Sudan, including upon the mostly Christian and Animist citizens of its oil-producing south.

On April 26, 1983, to ensure a wider application of Shariah, Mr. Nimeiry declared a “state of emergency,” under which most constitutionally guaranteed rights were suspended in the south.

The declaration prompted formation of southern Sudan´s People´s Liberation Army (SPLA) and triggered a two-decade civil war during which roughly 2.2 million civilians died, one of the highest civilian death tolls of any war since World War II.

It took a couple years for government militias to set their sights on Mr. Kuch´s hometown of Bor, on the east bank of the Nile River. “I remember waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of gunfire,” Mr. Kuch recalled in a recent interview. “My family decided to run in different directions, hoping that they would be safe.”

Many of Peter´s friends and family members were killed, and many who survived fled, leaving Mr. Kuch, at age of 7 or 8 (Peter, like many “lost boys,” does not know his exact age), to begin the 600-mile trek (roughly the distance between Boston and Richmond) to Ethiopia in hopes of reaching a refugee camp. The conditions were jaw-dropping.

“Over the three weeks to a month that it took us to get there, I remember a lot of the other children dying. Since we weren´t carrying any food with us, a lot of the children died from hunger and thirst. Some of us ate wild leaves, though we did not know whether they were poisonous, and some of us drank our own urine if we were lucky to happen to produce any urine because we all were dehydrated. Some of us were attacked by wild animals, and some of the children drowned trying to swim across rivers. Several children just gave up and left the group, and others caught epidemic diseases.”

Thousands of children died en route to Ethiopia. Those who survived, including Mr. Kuch, spent four years at a squalid refugee camp before another civil war forced them to run for their lives. Mr. Kuch then began another nearly yearlong odyssey to Kenya.

Dodging bombs and gunfire from Khartoum´s Islamist armies, Mr. Kuch was one of fewer than half of the “lost boys” who made it to refugee camps in Kenya, where he spent the next 10 years on the edge of life, yearning for a chance to learn, to eat and to live in freedom.

That chance came in 2003 when, following a lengthy interview process, Mr. Kuch was selected by the U.S. government as one of 4,000 “lost boys” to move to America. He settled in Syracuse, N.Y., where he quickly secured a job and later enrolled in Byrant & Stratton College´s Human Resources program.

Since coming to America, Peter has devoted much of his free time to informing Americans about the plight of his people. He has testified before Congress and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and speaks at high schools, colleges and churches, not only about the millions still displaced by Sudan´s civil war but also about the ongoing genocide in Sudan´s western Darfur region.

According to Mr. Kuch, education is the next war in Sudan. “When the Arabs were in power, people were not allowed to get an education unless they became Muslim and took Muslim names. … I would love to go back, it´s one of the reasons I want to get my education.”

Through it all, Mr. Kuch´s Christian faith has remained strong. “My faith in God plays a great role in my life and my ability to persevere in everything I have gone through. I had a strong faith in God that one day He will bring us out like He did to the people of Israel. My faith kept me going.”

Peter´s faith also informed his recent decision to join the U.S. Army in order, in his words, “to defend this great nation with all my heart.”

It might seem paradoxical for one of the “lost boys,” who experts say are the most badly war-traumatized children ever examined, to aspire to become a soldier. Mr. Kuch says, “when I speak about joining the military I have people asking why I want to go, as I have been through a lot already. My answer to them is always that I love this country and I want to do my part in this critical time of the war.”

Mr. Kuch also recognizes Islamic extremism, the enemy responsible for the slaughter of his people and his separation from his family, as the same enemy that attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001, and the same enemy America is fighting today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As Mr. Kuch prepares to leave for basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C., on June 13, he looks forward to serving his country in order, as he says, “to give back to a country that has given me so much.” And to help others experience the feelings of joy, pride and hope for a bright future only freedom can bring.

Daniel Allott is senior writer at American Values, a Washington, D.C., area public policy organization.



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