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Lost Boy Found
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Lost Boy Found
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Rising Voices: Moving Forward
When war broke out in southern Sudan, Valentino Deng and thousands of other children fled the fighting that killed many of their families. A lucky few, Valentino included, made it to the United States. Valentino teamed up with Dave Eggers to tell the world the story of the Lost Boys, a story that continues to be written as Valentino carves out a new future for the children of South Sudan.
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Produced by Journeyman Pictures.

Find out more about the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation.

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Segment 1

TITLE
Lost Boy Found
VOICEOVER
We left as the sun reddened and dropped and we directed ourselves to the desert. We had been told by the villagers that we were close to Ethiopia, that all that was left was to cross the desert, that in a week’s time we would find the end of Sudan. The dying began on the fifth day.
ERIC CAMPBELL [Reporter]
It was an astonishing story of survival, and it took an extraordinary partnership to bring it to the world. Valentino Deng and his American friend Dave Eggers spent four years writing a book about Valentino's childhood nightmare.
DAVE EGGERS [Author, "What is the What"]
I think we have a fascination for children who’ve lost everything and have become separated from their parents. We know that this happens during war, but this was something so unique where tens of thousands of children walked more or less alone across a desert eight hundred miles.
ERIC CAMPBELL
Together they’ve told a tale that captivated millions and even became the must read book for a president. Now they’ve begun a new journey, using a shared passion for education to help rebuild a shattered society.
DAVE EGGERS
Here in the US, people take their education for granted and he can say well I walked 800 miles through war-ravaged Sudan just to sit on the grass and learn ABC’s in the dirt.
VALENTINO DENG
If humans can do this, you know, I’m happy and I laugh about it and I say I’m proud to be a part of this society as well.
ERIC CAMPBELL
This is something you won’t often see in the West -- crowds of kids excited about going to school. In southern Sudan, it’s now every child’s dream to get an education. Not so long ago, children weren’t marching to school, they were fleeing for their lives. Valentino is determined to give these children the chance his generation never had.
VALENTINO DENG
I want something best for my country. I want something better for my people. I want something that will bring them peace.
ERIC CAMPBELL
He was a young cattle herder, perhaps eight or nine years old, when the war swept into his village in the early 1980s. For decades there had been tension between these mainly Christian Africans of southern Sudan and the Muslim Arabs of the north. After the southerners rebelled, the north attacked their villages. First they used helicopter gunships.
TITLE
"What is the What" by Dave Eggers
VOICEOVER
Now there were five or more of these machines, great black crickets in every direction. Adults were running from the machines, falling, screaming.
ERIC CAMPBELL
Then came the men on horseback.
VOICEOVER
From our hiding place we watched the storm overtake the town. All was dust. I heard the crack of gunfire behind us. Horses burst through the grass to the right and left.
ERIC CAMPBELL
Thousands of children fled into the bush, including many children like Valentino who became separated from their families. The children banded together to try to escape the fighting.
VALENTINO DENG
We were walking to Ethiopia but we were not safe. There would be the Sudan armed forces that would spot any moving target in southern Sudan and drop bombs at them. We would see dead bodies everywhere. Everyone was looking for a safer place, and whatever it took, walking day and night, we did it.
ERIC CAMPBELL
Groups of orphans as young as three walked for months across the desert to reach Ethiopia.
TITLE
"What is the What" by Dave Eggers
VOICEOVER
Within days there were thousands of boys and soon after the boys arrived, there were adults and families and babies and the land was crowded with Sudanese. A city of refugees rose up within weeks. It is something to see, people simply sitting, surrounded by rebels and Ethiopian soldiers, waiting to be fed.
ERIC CAMPBELL
Then when Ethiopia expelled them they had to march all over again to Kenya as the civil war raged around them.
VOICEOVER
I turned around and I could see the soldiers, kneeling in the grass of the riverbank, shooting at us as we crossed. A scream came from very close. I turned to see a boy in the jaws of a crocodile. The river bloomed red and the boy’s face disappeared.
ERIC CAMPBELL
They actually were firing on you as you were trying to cross the river to escape?
VALENTINO DENG
Yes.
ERIC CAMPBELL
And you saw people dying around you?
VALENTINO DENG
Of course.
ERIC CAMPBELL
And almost died yourself?
VALENTINO DENG
Yes. I even saw a woman who was killed, a young woman who was killed and her small daughter was struggling to breastfeed on her mother who’d just been killed, and crying.
ERIC CAMPBELL
For thirteen years the survivors grew up as unaccompanied minors in refugee camps where they became known as the Lost Boys. Eventually Valentino moved to the United States, determined to tell the world the story of what they’d been through. In 2003 he began collaborating with Dave Eggers, a best selling author whose own memoir had been short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize. Eggers agreed that the money from any book sales would go towards Sudan.
DAVE EGGERS
The story of the lost boys, and Valentino’s story in particular, just hadn’t been told. This is a war that claimed over two million lives and we knew almost nothing about it.
ERIC CAMPBELL
The result was “What is the What,” a fictionalized account of Valentino’s life that became a publishing sensation.
DAVE EGGERS
We thought we would be telling a story about history, about something that had happened and there was peace in south Sudan and a peace agreement on its way. In the first half of the months that we were working together, that’s when Darfur blew up and we thought well this could never happen again, and it happened precisely the same way. So then the sense of urgency was sort of doubled because that same government was oppressing another region, another country, and we thought if people really understand the underpinnings of the war, both conflicts are so similar.
ERIC CAMPBELL
The book was not only a best seller; it captivated America’s elite. Valentino Deng found himself feted by past and present US presidents and embraced by Hollywood activists like Angelina Jolie.
VALENTINO DENG
I became popular in the US. I appreciated it but I didn’t do it to be a celebrity. It was a call to action and that’s how I looked at it always.
ERIC CAMPBELL
He’s now using the proceeds of the book to help his homeland rebuild. A peace deal in 2005 allowed him to join hundreds of other lost boys returning to southern Sudan, although the boys are now all grown men. They’ve come back to a land that was nearly razed to the ground in 20 years of fighting.
VALENTINO DENG
After the war, so much of the infrastructure, the little infrastructure that there was, was completely gone. The village has been burned and burned over for many years.
ERIC CAMPBELL
But since his first visit home in 2003, the towns have started to rise from the ashes.
VALENTINO DENG
Yes, it has changed much. Last year there was no road like this, and you see people going to school. All schools were closed during the war. So a lot of change is taking place.
ERIC CAMPBELL
It's all coming back to life.
VALENTINO DENG
Yep.

Segment 2

ERIC CAMPBELL
Valentino was able to reconnect with a family he hadn’t seen in 16 years. Against all odds his parents had survived.
VALENTINO DENG
They look emaciated, they look sick. They needed a lot. I knew I had a lot of offer them, but I was excited to come back and find them alive.
ERIC CAMPBELL
Deng’s dream was to build a new high school in his village of Marial Bai, a school where the next generation could learn to help their new country. He's already gone most of the way to realizing it.
VALENTINO DENG
We have come and luckily it didn’t rain. Everything would be wet right now.
ERIC CAMPBELL
This is amazing what you’ve done. So you built all this in just a year?
VALENTINO DENG
Yes.
ERIC CAMPBELL
Everything we see here?
VALENTINO DENG
Yes, everything we see here except that building. That was built in less than a year.
ERIC CAMPBELL
That is amazing.
ERIC CAMPBELL
With the money from the book he bought a truck, transported building materials all the way from Uganda and hired the villagers to build it in record time. When Dave Eggers visited, he was stunned by how fast it had happened in such a remote and hard place.
DAVE EGGERS
His actions are speaking louder than anything else. There are a lot of people that talk about rebuilding south Sudan and how to do it and there are a lot of plans being drawn up, but in an incredibly short amount of time he just did it.
ERIC CAMPBELL
It’s the only proper high school in the region. There are now 260 students, including 22 women and girls. The plan is to eventually have 800 students with as many girls as boys. Despite all they’ve been through, people here are quick to see blessings. Even torrential rain is welcomed as a gift from God and that makes this school day doubly blessed. Valentino Deng has invited Abraham Nial, another lost boy who’s just been named the new bishop.
ABRAHAM NIAL
When we left home in the ‘80s, many of us died. Wild animals ate some, some drowned in the rivers, but God kept some of us alive to be witness of what took place in Sudan.
ERIC CAMPBELL
He and Valentino are pushing a message of non-violence.
ABRAHAM NIAL
We had a goal that if we can survive and go to school, we need to come back and change life in Sudan. Valentino has done it, that’s why you people are here. We fought for more than 50 years, but nothing was accomplished through the gun. The things are going to change through education.
ERIC CAMPBELL
It’s no easy task after two decades of war. Even the teachers here have little formal education, so Valentino has appealed for teachers from the other side of the world to help teach them. They’re among dozens who paid their own way to come as volunteers. Despite giving up his retirement for this, Don Hesse says he gets just as much out of the experience as those he’s helping.
DON HESSE [Volunteer Teacher]
This is where I’d rather be than anywhere else, except possibly the baseball stadium, but some things you’ve got to give up and that’s what I gave up to come here. And I miss my children very much. If I could pick a place I would be, this is where it would be. It’s wonderful.
ERIC CAMPBELL
During breaks, the students mob the volunteers; hungry for the learning the war denied them. The presence of foreigners here is also an important symbol for the Sudanese, who feel that for decades, the outside world had forgotten them.
MICHAEL ROSE [Volunteer Teacher]
The students here are incredibly eager, especially this being the first secondary school in the region. There are thousands and thousands of applicants to get into the school who have taken the test. They were the few that were chosen, so they’re going to be some of the most highly educated people in southern Sudan. I think they’re starting to realize that there’s a bigger purpose for them beyond just being a high school graduate. They are going to be the future of the new country.
ERIC CAMPBELL
In these classrooms, there’s no fidgeting at the back of the class, no yearning for the school bell. In Australia, the students would be in their early teens. Here most are in their twenties, catching up on the lost years.
DON HESSE
Some of them have come out of five or six years in the army and are now settling down into high school. You get people who’ve had a very difficult past. You get some young boys and you see the joy in their face and the laughter and they’re lighting up. You get some of the older students and their seriousness is tinged by some amount of sadness.
ERIC CAMPBELL
The problem in southern Sudan is not any lack of enthusiasm; it’s a lack of resources. Even at night, they huddle round the one light powered by the school’s generator. The most determined of all are the girls. In southern Sudan, only one girl in ten finishes primary school, one in a hundred get through high school.
DON HESSE
The worst thing you can say about these kids is that they’ll steal textbooks so they can stay up late at night and study under the light outside the shower. That’s the worst thing you can say about them, is they want to learn more.
ERIC CAMPBELL
Every day more people are returning to southern Sudan, despite the poverty that awaits them. In a fertile region, rich in oil, one in four people are still dependent on food aid. Yet there’s a sense of hope here, even excitement of building a new country. Since the peace deal was signed six years ago, there have been no more attacks from the Islamist government in Khartoum. For the first time in decades, southern Sudan is feeling free. But there’s a dark cloud hanging over all of this. In January, the south is due to hold a referendum on independence. It was guaranteed under the peace deal, but the question is, will Khartoum honor the agreement? Would it really let the south, with all its oil fields, go? Or are the people here just months from another war? The possibility of more fighting worries Valentino Deng’s supporters. The school is just a short drive from the northern border, near what could be the front line.
DAVE EGGERS
Khartoum has never allowed anything like this to happen and none of their behavior would predict that they would allow this to happen peacefully. So there’s a lot of fear and a lot of people say, how can you build a secondary school when there might be war a year from now? But again, Valentino has to always err on the side of hope and moving forward. So that’s the greatest challenge is that, will this school be used as a barracks a year from now?
ERIC CAMPBELL
So are you optimistic or pessimistic?
VALENTINO DENG
I am optimistic.
ERIC CAMPBELL
After all the bad things you’ve seen and been through?
VALENTINO DENG
Well, the bad things I’ve seen have happened for a reason. There was war, there was chaos, there was the killing, there was all that had to happen because we had allowed our country to get at war with itself. What then would you expect? So all that had to happen. But now the Sudanese have come back again, sat at a round table and negotiated a comprehensive peace agreement that I trust they must implement to its fullest.
ERIC CAMPBELL
If fighting did come again, would you leave Sudan again?
VALENTINO DENG
I don’t know.
ERIC CAMPBELL
Something to think about?
VALENTINO DENG
I don’t think about it. You know, prevention is better than cure.
ERIC CAMPBELL
There’s a price he pays for his passion for the school. Once again he’s separated from his family. His wife and baby son live in Kenya until he can make a proper home for them in Sudan, the sort of home Valentino didn’t have.
VALENTINO DENG
And we will keep him safe, we will protect him in the best way we can. We’ll make sure he doesn’t go through all this pain.
ERIC CAMPBELL
He sees them rarely, dividing his time between Marial Bai and the US, where he continues to raise money for his foundation. Today, it’s time to farewell the students until he comes back next term.
VALENTINO DENG
Another issue I would like to acknowledge here is that I’m really very proud of you and I want to thank you very much for our event.
DAVE EGGERS
He’s become one of my closest friends and he’s also just the best man I’ve ever known. What he’s been able to accomplish through his foundation, and just continues to do, amazes me and everybody who knows him.
ERIC CAMPBELL
When you look around at what’s been achieved so far, after all you’ve been through, what are your feelings?
VALENTINO DENG
I’m very happy. I’m very proud of it. I like seeing them cracking jokes and laughing and playing together with their sisters. It’s amazing. And for me, I think I’m doing exactly what I need to do with my life -- to be here, to see people smiling and to know that I’ve given them that smile. That’s what matters to me.