By Molly Plotnik
Students at Hillel of San Diego found new meaning to the traditional Yom Kippur Haftarah this year. After hearing Isaiah's reminder that justice is more important than meaningless fasting, about 70 students stayed during the afternoon break to listen to Alepho and Benson Deng, two "lost boys of Sudan" and learn what they can do to help raise awareness of the genocide currently taking place in Darfur.
Now in their early twenties (neither young man knows exactly how old he is), Alepho and Benson were 5 and 7 years old when they were forced to leave their families as the Sudanese government sent militia soldiers into their small village in southern Sudan. They joined thousands of homeless boys running for their lives from village to village and refugee camp to refugee camp. The brothers managed to stay together, but the fate of many of their family members, including their parents, is unknown. About 100 of the "lost boys" came to San Diego in August 2001.
Alepho and Benson explained how they fled to Ethiopia without their families, struggled with debilitating illnesses such as river blindness and fought to get an education. Alepho spoke poignantly about how hard it is to tell about his traumatic childhood because it revives the terrible memories. He also told humorous stories, such as experiencing "brain freeze" from ice cream for the first time. Benson commented on the current situation in Darfur and performed a song on guitar that he had made from wood, metal and nylon twine in a refugee camp.
The Hillel of San Diego students distributed green ribbons to raise awareness of the genocide in Darfur. Under the leadership of UCSD senior Molly Plotnik, they are planning programs to bring the issue to the campus and to continue their connection with Alepho and Benson through continued conversation.
Molly Plotnik is a senior at the University of California, San Diego.