God Bless the Lost Boys of Sudan

The “Lost Boys of Sudan” is a horrific story, both chilling and incredibly sad.  Tragically enough, it’s also one of the most effective parenting tools I have ever found.

In my never ending quest to help my children develop compassion and an attitude of gratitude, I stumbled upon a documentary, “The Lost Boys of Sudan”.  I watched it.  Cried.  And then made the risky decision to show my children.  My reasoning was less about shock, and more to illustrate how fortunate we are to live in Canada.

The “Lost Boys of Sudan” is the name given to the groups of over 20,000 boys who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005) during which millions were killed and millions more displaced. The term was used again as more children fled the post-independence violence of South Sudan during 2011–13.

Essentially, these orphaned boys walked barefoot for years in search of safe refuge, on a journey of over a thousand miles, across three countries to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.  Over half of the children died along their epic journey, due to starvation, dehydration, sickness and disease, attacks by wild animals (lions) and militia gunfire.  Miraculously, some of the surviving children eventually landed in the US to begin a new life.

It’s truly an amazing story and although graphic and extreme, I chose to show the “Lost Boys of Sudan” as both a teaching tool, measuring stick, and a harsh reality check.  

I was keenly aware and leery of the obvious shock value within the story of the Lost Boys.  This was real death, not Scooby Doo and I didn’t want my kids too scared or freaked out to miss the big picture.  While they fixated on the lion attacks and, ‘kids dying all over the fields”, I was there to keep things in perspective (“No we don’t have lions here” and they have NO water or food, and look, no shoes – you have 11 pairs)”.

Growing up in North America and in a “civilized” peaceful society, it can be really difficult for anyone, including me, to really know how lucky we are.  There really is no comparison to our life and the Boys of Sudan.  It’s hard to believe that, in today’s ‘modern’ world, in our lifetime (not our great grandparent’s lifetime), that other human beings have to endure that kind of suffering and strife.  It’s almost unimaginable.  Almost.

As parents, we want to protect our children.  We want life for them to be all sunshine, cupcakes, and smiles.  When do you begin to discuss all the horrible evil things that happen in this world?  All the really bad things humans do to one another: slavery, racism, violence, child pornography, war, starvation, and the terrible list goes on and on.

Sadly for me, given my children’s ages *(8,6,5), I currently “use” the Lost Boys for very basic purposes: to get more fruits and vegetables eaten, to squash whining in the grocery line-up, and to control the never-ending demand of things “NOW!” as in the popular, “I need water now, I’m dying back here!”

Whether you agree with my application or not, it’s working.  Not a week goes by without one of my children citing the “Boys of Sudan”.  Typical scenarios where “the Boys” are mentioned is at the dinner table, when someone refuses to eat fruit because of a little bruise, or when someone complains about having nothing to wear, or even a weak Wi-fi signal (Really son?? It’s THAT frustrating?).

I know I am not using all the teachable parts of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” – but I think you need to digest a story of this magnitude in small manageable chunks.  I hope to evolve in my thinking and sharing of the story as my children get older and they can appreciate more.

How do you help your children put their needs and wants in perspective?  (still walking uphill to school both ways?)

What can we do this Christmas season to help develop empathy in our children and eliminate self-pity?

I look forward to your ideas…

Until next time….