Published on March 2nd, 2015 | by Millennium Magazine Staff0
Sudanese ‘Lost Boy’ Jacob Atem visits District Five middle school
Pictured left to right: Irmo Middle School Principal Robert Jackson and Sudanese civil war survivor Jacob Atem
IRMO – Students at Irmo Middle School had an opportunity to hear a first-hand account of tragedy, survival and the critical role education has played in helping to bring “freedom and hope” to people in war-torn countries abroad.
Jacob Atem, who escaped civil war in Sudan by wandering for years in the African bush with thousands of other young orphaned men later dubbed “Lost Boys,” spoke to seventh and eighth graders at the international academic magnet school on Feb. 13. Atem said he hoped his story will inspire the students to take advantage of the opportunities their school and nation provide for them.
“You are blessed and fortunate to have the things you have,” Atem told the students assembled in the school’s gymnasium. “You have to listen to your teachers and parents. They know what they are talking about. You have many opportunities, so you should make the best of them.”
An estimated 20,000 boys between the ages of seven and 17 fled from their homes in the late 1980s during Sudan’s civil war between the government and a rebel army. Walking thousands of miles across Africa to refugee camps, many of the Lost Boys of Sudan died during the journey from illness, hunger and animal attacks. Their story was told worldwide in the 1990s when thousands of the boys began arriving in refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and other areas. Largely orphaned, around 3,400 of the boys were allowed to resettle in the United States.
Atem learned to speak English and earned a bachelor’s degree at Spring Arbor University and his master’s degree at Michigan State. He is now a doctoral student at the University of Florida. School officials say the visit by Atem provides real-world examples of global citizenship and fosters informed world awareness, all themes of the school’s international academic magnet program.
“His message was extremely powerful,” said Irmo Middle Principal Robert Jackson. “It helped our students understand the power of getting a high quality education. For us it’s a proud moment because we’re doing it in one of South Carolina’s finest school systems. So anytime we can connect authentic learning to core standards and indicators that our students are supposed to be mastering, it makes learning meaningful. It makes it relevant. It makes the students get it. And when that light bulb comes on, it makes them want to extend their learning. Today was powerful. It was emotional. It was moving. And it’s just a proud day for Irmo Middle School.”