The Long Journey Home of James Nguen


The Long Journey Home of James Nguen began in a small village in rural South Sudan.  It was a night that began like many before it.  Curled up on a sleeping mat with his brothers and sister, his mother saying good night and that she would see him in the morning.  He was just seven years old. His thoughts were likely on the games he would play with his friends the next day…. or of the little dirt floor school that he would go to.  But on this night the family’s village was attacked by soldiers engaged in a brutal civil war. It was about 5 o’clock in the morning.  James was awakened by the sound of gunfire and of screaming people.  He ran into the dark to hide.

When the sun rose and the village was quiet, James crept home.  All he found was “corpses and burned huts”. His family was gone and so, he would soon realize, was the carefree life of a seven yearold boy.

He began to walk, joining up with groups of other children that had become “lost”.They learned of a refugee camp in Ethiopia, run by the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army and they began walking there. By the time they reached the camp (there were no tents, latrines or food), there were 26 thousand boys and a few girls.

Over the next four years the children moved from place to place, constantly threatened by rebel soldiers and bandits.  They watched as some among them were attacked by animals or perished from the equatorial heat, disease and starvation. By the time the children arrived at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya, four years later, only 16,000 were still alive.

James Nguen was one of them.

In that camp, James and 3 other boys (he was now eleven), with bits of building material supplied by the UN, had to build their own mud home.  He attended a simple school in the camp and became part of a group known as “The Lost Boys”.  Their mud homes formed little villages in Kakuma Camp.  They became families among themselves, caring for and protecting each other.

In 2001, James was brought to Canada with about 600 Lost Boys, as refugees. Considering their past, they have done extremely well.  Most have become hard working, reliable citizens.  James is working on a degree at Mount Royal College.  His partner, Elizabeth, a young woman who also lived in a refugee camp in Kenya, and James have 3 children.

Some of the Lost Boys and Lost Girls  have found a caring new family in Grace Presbyterian Church.  They have been offered a place to meet and they are working with members of the congregation to map out a future that will assist those that wish to finish their education and grow their families or need community support.

When a peace agreement was signed between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, ending the civil war, James learned that his mother, a second mother (his father, who died during the war, had 3 wives) and two of his siblings had survived the war and were living in South Sudan.

Finally, 19 years after he was first separated from his family -James Nguen boarded an airplane and began The Long Journey Home.