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'Lost Boys' party in Chula Vista Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Jan 15 2011 12:00 PM

The Chula Vista Elks Lodge recently co-hosted a unique birthday celebration with St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church and the University of San Diego for Community Service Learning.

The Jan. 8 event commemorated the California Sudanese Lost Boys and Girls Foundation's third year of operation.

It is the second year in a row the Chula Vista Elks have hosted the event.

Daniel Ukang, 30, is the president of the foundation and was 7 years old when he fled southern Sudan with thousands of other boys to escape their country's second civil war.

Ukang said the focus of the foundation is to establish a community center where the Lost Boys can gather and support each other.

Ukang lives in El Cajon with his wife Mary, a lost girl, and their three children. "What happened in the past, happened," he said. "Now I have to continue so my kids can have a better life."

Foundation co-founder Lisa Petronis met Ukang in 2005 while she was pursuing her doctorate. After hearing the Lost Boys' story she decided to write her dissertation on them.

Petronis later completed the country's first psychological study on the Lost Boys focusing on their experience of exile and Christianity.

"They inspire me," she said. "It's very humbling and quite unbelievable to see the things they've accomplished."

Koor Gai, 30, is the vice president of the foundation and, after coming to the U.S., education became his dream. "My degree is my real dream and hope has replaced my nightmares," he said. Gai recently graduated from the University California San Diego with his degree in applied science and mathematics.

Ukang said it's incredible to see what the Lost Boys have accomplished. "We were coming to a country where we didn't know anything - how to open a can, a book or how to work a stove," he said.

Petronis said she's recognized a wealth of leadership abilities in the Lost Boys.

"Their generosity transcends any individual that I can say I know," she said.

St. Rose priest John Dolan said the Lost Boy's testimony moved everyone at mass one day.

"I thought if they can walk 1,000 miles we could take at least one step to address some of their basic needs like food, shelter and education," he said.

In 1987, the war drove an estimated 70,000 boys to bordering countries like Ethiopia and Kenya. Most of them died before they reached refugee camps, walking more than 1,000 miles of dangerous terrain, they ran from bullets, lions and crocodiles with minimal resources.

Some international humanitarian organizations called the boys a lost generation because they lacked educational opportunities and access to basic health care services.


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