Rep. Karen Bass and The Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan
Wednesday, April 20th, 2016 @ 7:03AM
The title of this blog could easily be Hope Is Powerful Medicine, Part Two. The stories of the now “lost” men and women of Sudan retold at a policy breakfast forum hosted by social worker Congresswoman Karen Bass (CA-37), the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, are powerful expressions of faith and courage spurring their quest to bring hope to family, friends, and fellow citizens in their war-torn native South Sudan.
I arrived a few minutes before the start of the 8:00 a.m. briefing. Room 2168 in the Rayburn House Office Building—known as the Gold Room—was filled to near capacity. Rep. Bass was joined by several of her colleagues including Social Work Caucus Chair Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13), Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. G. K. Butterfield (NC-1), Rep. David Cicilline (RI-1), Rep. John Conyers (MI-13), and Rep. Stacey Plaskett (VI). On the panel were Ambassador Princeton N. Lyman, who served as the United States Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan from March 31, 2011 to May 1, 2013, and several of the Lost Boys and Girls, including David Acuoth, a Legislative Fellow in the Office of Congresswoman Bass. There were about three dozen Lost Boys and Girls in attendance.
During the question and answer period, one of the Lost Boys—who is pursuing a doctoral degree—asked those of his compatriots with bachelor’s or master’s degrees to stand. More than a third of the delegation stood. There were others pursuing degrees and working on various projects designed to bring assistance and relief to people in South Sudan. They were far away from home and the battlefields they were fortunate to escape. But their hearts remained in South Sudan. Everyone who spoke had plans to go back and bring hope to their war-weary brothers and sisters.
For many years, these South Sudanese young people who came to the United States in the early 2000s were known as The Lost Boys. Even during the policy breakfast speakers had to be reminded to include the women. “Lost boys AND girls,” panelist Nyamal Biel Tutdeal exclaimed. Many of the young men laughed. She is the Founding Director of the NyaEden Foundation, an organization created to give voice to Africa’s refugees, particularly girls and women who often face profoundly more severe challenges than their male counterparts. Like The Lost Boys, Ms. Tutdeal had walked hundreds of miles on foot to escape violence in South Sudan and neighboring Ethiopia and eventually escaped to South Dakota. She too had definite plans to bring relief to others in her native South Sudan.
South Sudan remains in turmoil. Resolving conflicts—some resulting from centuries-old colonization and exploitation—will not be easy. Wars across the African continent are abetted by arms merchants who rely on strife to feed their profits. The craving for power by authoritarian is a narcotic not easily detoxed. Expecting the best the Lost Boys and Girls can give will eradicate violence from South Sudan may be unrealistic. But they are determined group. They will give it their best effort with the support of friends like Congresswoman Bass who is crafting legislation that would provide assistance to these young South Sudanese patriots that will allow them to complete their education and return home to help rebuild their country.
Listening to their stories, I thought about the silly fights we Americans have over fears someone is trying to take things from us. Undocumented immigrants are threatening the economic well-being of American workers by taking away jobs. Providing social services for vulnerable populations is coercive if Americans are required to pay more taxes. Job creators are being denied profit by having to pay reasonable taxes and adhere to regulations designed to protect the public interest. I think of the phrase used often by Michael Medved: “another great day in the greatest nation on God’s green Earth.” We are a blessed lot and that we often take for granted. Ideally, prosperity can and needs to be more equally shared. That will happen when lower-income Americans realize we must work together. As President Obama often reminds us, the United States is the greatest nation in the world and it has the potential to be greater. We are hopefully moving towards a more perfect union. Helping the Lost Boys and Girls moves us in the right direction.