I met Guor Kiir while teaching a class at a community college. He was painfully shy at the start of the semester. But over time, he found his voice–and oh, did he have a story to tell.
A Lost Boy
Few students have taken a longer road to college than 23-year-old Guor Kiir. Born in war-torn Sudan, Kiir escaped the country on foot, with only the clothes on his back. It was just the beginning of a remarkable journey.
Like many Sudanese boys, Kiir spent summers in a cattle camp. There, older boys tended animals and looked out for the younger children, while parents remained behind in the villages. And, in 1989, it was those older boys who helped six-year old Kiir run to safety when the villages nearby were attacked. He has not seen his family since.
After walking for a month, the boys made their way to an Ethiopian refugee camp. When war broke out two years later, Kiir and the other boys had to run again, this time to a Sudanese border town. With soldiers’ guns pointed at their backs and a dangerous river ahead of them, many did not survive the journey.
Back in Sudan, food was extremely scarce and fighting fierce. Kiir says simply, “Surviving was very difficult,” and the only food they had to eat was “wild fruit.”
After several months, he and the other “lost boys” began another long walk—this time to a Kenyan refugee center. It was 1992 and by now, Kiir was nine years old. Kenya became home. Kiir spent eight years there, attending a school set up for the lost boys.
In 2000, the United Nations helped Kiir, who was by then 17, travel to the United States, where he was placed with a foster family in Stevensville, Md. Here, he settled into an American lifestyle, attending high school and working at McDonalds. Asked if this transition was difficult, Kiir said, “I’ve been adapting to new environments all my life.”
After graduation, Kiir enrolled in classes and worked in a campus office at Montgomery College (MC). It was at MC, Kiir says, where “I discovered what I was meant to do.” Although he originally thought about majoring in accounting, Kiir changed his major to international studies after taking an anthropology class. “I was very excited to know about different perspectives, different cultures and especially how Americans saw Africans.”
Kiir would like to return to Sudan one day. While he has been able to get messages to his mother via a cousin in Khartoum, he has not seen her since that fateful day in 1989. He worries about those left behind.
“I would feel better about myself if I knew they were getting along as well as me,” said Kiir. “People are still suffering where I left, with no access to clean water, no access to sanitation, no access to education, no access to medical care.”
Eventually, Kiir would like to combine his academic studies and life experiences to help other lost refugees find their way. But for now, he is busy buying books, meeting with professors and getting settled into his new dorm room at Washington College in Chestertown, MD. Awarded a prestigious academic scholarship upon his transfer from Montgomery College, Kiir will major in international relations. And so another journey has begun.
Photo Credit: Don Rejonis