12:22 PM

Former Lost Boy of Sudan brings message of hope for Black History Month

Bol Aweng survived a harrowing journey from Sudan to Kenya to Columbus, Ohio, but the Ohio State University graduate has used that ordeal to help spread a message of hope.

Bol Aweng speaks at the Wexner Medical Center

Aweng was the guest speaker at a celebration of Black History Month at the Wexner Medical Center Wednesday. He is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, forced to flee military conflict in the 1980s from his village in what is now South Sudan.

“So many people ask me how I did it. I had hope. I had faith,” Aweng told a crowded auditorium at the Ross Heart Hospital.

As a 6-year-old, Aweng was separated from his family and made a dangerous trek across the war-torn African nation of Sudan. He and thousands of children fled on foot to seek refuge first in Ethiopia and later in Kenya.

Along the 1,500-mile journey, Aweng lost friends to starvation, violence and animal attacks. He spoke of fending off lions and how they claimed the lives of fellow refugees. Exhaustion took a toll as well.

“You only had the choice to sit down or keep walking,” he said. “When my friends would sit down, that was the end of their life. They did not get up.”

Aweng finally escaped to safety at a refugee camp in Kenya, where he learned English, math and science. He said he studied under a tree with tools made of cardboard or even dirt. His journey to freedom eventually took him from Kenya to the United States and finally to Ohio State.

“When I came to Ohio State University that’s when I knew that without the under-the-tree classroom, I could not make it here,” he said.

After getting his degree from Ohio State, Aweng settled into life in America. But eventually he felt a need to return home and see what had become of his village after the war. In 2007 he returned to Africa for the first time in 20 years.

Aweng found his village and his parents. Both had survived the conflict. Aweng also recognized the critical need for medical care in his former home and worked with central Ohio organizations to help set up the Buckeye Clinic in Piol Village. The clinic provides maternal and child care to village residents.

Dr. Michael Caligiuri, CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute and director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center, commended Aweng for his efforts to bring better health care to his former country.

“We just marvel at what you’ve done in your very young life,” Caligiuri said.

To learn more about the Buckeye Clinic, visit its website and read about Aweng’s journey.