EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the former “Lost Boys of Sudan,” John Dau, is a genocide survivor who arrived in New York as a refugee in 2001, after enduring a 14-year-long journey from his village in Duk County. Having witnessed how his family and community struggled without proper healthcare in Sudan, he started the John Dau Foundation in 2007 with the goal of building health clinics in his home country.
Now, another humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the Nuba Mountains, where Sudanese military forces are bombing the mountains where there are believed to be Nuban rebels, and villagers are fleeing to Yida, an overcrowded refugee camp in South Sudan.
New America Media reporter Zaineb Mohammed spoke with Dau about his foundation, his hopes for South Sudan, and his fear that the “Lost Boys” crisis is about to happen all over again.
Zaineb Mohammed: What is the mission of the John Dau Foundation?
John Dau: The mission is simply to transform healthcare in South Sudan. We have built a medical clinic that is the first of its kind. Before, all of the mothers, including my mother, were giving birth in the villages - no medicine, no nurse, no doctor, no hospital, none existed before. The clinic opened in May 2007 and has treated 67,000 patients. About 7,000 mothers have given birth at the clinic.
The clinic is there to help people who cannot help themselves. We have so many success stories. Even as we speak, we have five mothers who are anemic, so we are giving them blood. If there were no clinic, where would these women go? They would just die, as their family members watch. Now we have a clinic to help them.
ZM: What inspired you to create the foundation?
JD: When I was young I used to get malaria, like every week. My mother and father would go out and find a local medicine - a plant called Thienget. My mother would take off the leaves and fruit and chop it into small pieces and put it in a bowl of water. The water would turn greenish, and my mother would take the residue out and have two or three people hold me down so that I could swallow that solution. It was horrible, very bad – the smell of it. I’m not sure if it helped me or not. I had to go through that all the time. You cannot blame our parents, that’s what they thought would help us.
When my sister was giving birth the first time there was no clinic, no hospital, nobody to do the C-section, so the baby died inside of her and stayed there for a week. She had to travel from Duk County to a hospital in Bor, and when the doctor operated on her, he did something and now she can no longer give birth. My sister cannot have a child. I thought, I must do something to stop this -- so that no mother would go through what my sister did; so that other children would not go through what I went through.
Health is paramount. You have to be healthy before you go to school, before you do any other things.
ZM: What kinds of services do you provide for patients?
JD: We are providing food for people, especially for those who are anemic or malnourished. We have built a nutrition center. Very malnourished children come, we admit them, keep them for a few weeks, and then we discharge them. That is also applied to the elderly.
There were about 326 cases of malaria last week. We go out in the community, we cut down the long grass, drain out stagnant water, and we are also asking other NGOs to help build mosquito nets so children will not suffer or die from malaria.
We take care of tuberculosis, and so many other diseases, and we treat them for free.
These diseases can be treated; these are diseases that in the developed world are like nothing. The treatable diseases are still killing people there [in South Sudan] because there’s no support.
ZM: What are your biggest challenges?
JD: Our budget right now is only $322,000 per year. It’s very difficult; almost all of us in the U.S. are volunteers. I am in an office space donated to me by the United Way.
I thought I was going to build six more clinics of this kind. Building is simple, but supporting the clinic is a big task. I am not giving up on my mission to build more though.
ZM: Have the increased hostilities between South Sudan and Sudan affected the operations of your clinic?
JD: Duk County is far away. It’s about 600 miles south of the border, so it is not affected.
The only thing threatening Duk County is the tribal hostilities, but that is coming to an end now. The government is taking an aggressive approach to stop the tribal killing.
ZM: How do you feel about Sudan and South Sudan’s future today, especially given the humanitarian crisis in the Nuba Mountains?
JD: To be honest, we were expecting it; we thought it would be the way it is today. We knew the north was losing 75% of the oil, so they would not go down without a fight. We were expecting that they would fight back. We were expecting the peace accords to not be met.
I think it is way better to have independence even if there is some fighting here and there.
ZM: Are you concerned the Lost Boys crisis will repeat itself? What could be done to prevent it?
JD: Omar Hassan al-Bashir [the president of Sudan] has been indicted by the International Criminal Court. He’s like a wounded lion that knows his life is coming to an end. What do you think that lion will do? He will kill anything he can find. He will destroy anything he can find. The international community indicted this guy; they need to get him out there.
The international community is sitting on their hands not doing anything and watching. When we were very little boys and girls, we were allowed to be treated like dogs. People knew that we were in that situation, and if they had helped us, those who died, my brothers and sisters, would still be alive. The same thing is going to happen now. Children are being targeted.
Those boys are so innocent, they have nothing, and it’s not their fault that the fighting has been going on in Sudan. Get those boys out, put them in a safe place. They don’t need to go through what we went through. They can change themselves and their country later.
I came to the U.S. as a refugee. I left my home when I was only 12 years old. I also had to take care of other boys. Fifteen years later I came to the U.S. I worked hard, worked at McDonald’s, got my associates degree, got my bachelor’s degree, and now I am helping my people. I helped 7,000 mothers gave birth, and 7,000 children get vaccinated.
God spared my life for a reason, that reason was to help my people. If you help these young boys, they can help themselves and later help others.
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