Lost Boy in Charlotte works to build school in Sudan

Legos stand at Christmas in Davidson raised $4,500

by Gloria Lawing

Lubo Mijak, a Lost Boy of Sudan, teaches under a tree in his hometown of Nyarweng. He’s working to build a school there.

Lubo Mijak has known a hard life.

He was 8 years old in 1987 when he saw his parents and older brother killed by enemy tribesmen. He was forced to flee from southern Sudan for his safety, and in the following three months, he walked along the Nile River, hiding from the enemy tribe during the day and hungry lions at night. He has known starvation and seen friends killed.

He and others like him who survived are known internationally at the Lost Boys of Sudan.

But Mijak survived, and the comfort, joy and support he missed growing up changed forever when Catholic Social Services brought him to Charlotte. In recent weeks, he experienced another miracle, when he and other Lost Boys traveled to Atlanta and Nashville to cast their votes for independence for his native land, southern Sudan.

Mijak is determined to use his good fortune to help family, friends and others in Southern Sudan. He has a vision to create a school in his hometown of Nyarweng, so that little boys and little girls will be educated, and so no child will experience what he has gone through.  He believes that the fighting in Sudan is caused by lack of education, by not understanding that diversity is richness. He believes education can break the cycle of violence between Muslim and Christian tribes.

Lubo Mijak (right) and mentor Phillips Bragg stand behind the model school that was built of Legos at the 2010 Christmas in Davidson celebration. More than $4,500 was collected at the event to help Mijak toward his goal of building a four-room schoolhouse.

In December, in one of his first attempts to share his dream with the public, he came to the annual Christmas in Davidson celebration. He brought a sign challenging: “Can Davidson Build A School In Three Days?”

Mijak used Legos to represent a model of his Nyarweng school and asked for donations in exchange for adding more of the Lego building blocks to the school. Kirby Bragg, 11, and Claud Bragg, 9, sons  of Phillips Bragg, Mijak’s longtime Charlotte mentor, were in charge of recruiting people passing by on Main Street to check out their stand.

In the end, Lake Norman-area residents raised $4,500 for Mijak’s future school, only the latest step in Mijak’s remarkable life.

The Lost Boys are the Sudanese boys orphaned when their parents were murdered in the Second Sudanese Civil War, which killed 2 million over 21 years. The boys, in the tradition of the Dinka culture, were tending to the cattle, and were three hours away from their village when Muslim tribesmen killed everyone there.

Mijak and the survivors of his village walked to a United Nations refugee camp in neighboring Ethiopia, surviving on leaves along the way. He lived in camps in Ethiopia and Kenya for 11 years, where rations of corn, wheat and beans often “dropped from the sky” from United Nations airplanes.

Finally, the United Nations granted him refugee status and he learned he was coming to Charlotte. He remembers touching a map of the United States, knowing nothing about his new city.

Catholic Social Services brought him here in 2001, where he and refugees from many other nations lived in an apartment off Central Avenue. He quickly integrated with the community with the help of St. John Baptist Church, at 300 Hawthorne Lane.

And here began the hard life of the refugee. He first worked for TJ Maxx, loading trucks and stamping on prices. Driving was another complexity. The winters proved to be tougher than he thought. But the staff of Catholic Social Services and members of St. John Baptist Church helped, and through the church he met Phillips Bragg, who helped to build his dreams of education and giving back. Mijak kept his sights set upon one dream:  education.

He finally enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and graduated in 2008 with a degree in international studies.

In 2007, after earning American citizenship and getting a passport, Mijak returned for his first visit to Sudan, a mission he had dreamed about for six years. In Sudan, he reunited with his family and friends. He was struck most by his cousin’s daughter, a beautiful, physically disabled child who was told to rise and walk to greet her uncle from America, which she did proudly on one leg.

“If only medical attention were available,” he said, “she would not suffer like that.”

Word of the American visitor spread, and Sudanese mothers brought their malaria-infested children in droves to him, believing he was a doctor and begging for a cure.

Mijak said he could not cure, but he could help their children in another way:  He could teach. His vision was born that day, when the mothers of Nyarweng made him promise to be an ambassador for his country, to bring education and a school to them.

“America gave so much to me,” he said. “I don’t want to just sit back and say, ‘Well, someone helped me. I’m happy now.’ No, I want to continue to help others because it is my duty as others have helped me.”

Nowadays, Mijak travels with his mentor, Bragg, meeting with different organizations to talk with interested philanthropists about Mijak’s vision. The meal they serve is simple – pinto beans and Dinka bread –  as a reminder of the meals refugees eat every day in Ethiopia.

Today, Mijak, with Bragg’s help, has raised more than $100,000 of the $150,000 he needs for a four-room school house. He stays extremely busy, working for Bragg as a financial analyst part-time in the morning and then going to work from 3:30 to 11 p.m., at Presbyterian Hospital. There he sterilizes medical equipment.

The 12-hour days help Mijak pay his college loan and also to save for a dowry of 100 cows  – the price of a Dinka bride – if he chooses to marry in Sudan.

Where does Mijak want to live someday?  “I want to live where I can give back,” he said, “where I can make the most difference to people.  I would like to go to law school and study international law, so that I can teach the people in my country of their own human rights. It feels so good to take care of people. … It is only your duty.”

Want to help build a school in southern Sudan?

To help Lubo Mijak and his vision, contact his nonprofit, Mothering Across Continents, at info@motheringacrosscontinents.org or 704-607-0098. The nonprofit’s website is www.motheringacrosscontinents.org and its office is 15105-D John J. Delaney Drive, suite 146, Charlotte.

Donations are tax deductible.

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