© Brittany W. Verge - The Advance
LIVERPOOL - Riiny Ngot, a former “Lost Boy” of the second Sudanese civil war, came to Liverpool Regional High School on April 4 to do a presentation on his life and his experiences in Sudan and Canada.
Standing at over 7 ft. 2 in. Ngot was not hard to miss when he came to the high school. His name in fact means “stretch” in his mother tongue. He is from the Dinka tribe who are known as some of the tallest people in the world.
Ngot started his story by showing the students the last photo he had taken with his parents before the war reached his area. Ngot grew up in Wua in the Sudan. He describes himself as a disobedient and spoilt child, which led his parents to send him to his grandparents’ village the day the bombing started. Ngot was just 11-years-old.
Members of the Dinka tribe traditionally tend cattle and children often help herd them, which is what Ngot was doing that day. Ngot says he was in the barn in his grandparents’ village when the village was bombed. When he came out, everyone around him was dead.
“First thing that came into my head was my sister,” says Ngot.
Ngot found his eight year old sister in a burning hut two miles away. He rescued his sister and both siblings received burns that would leave lasting scars.
Ngot and his sister eventually joined a group of wandering boys, including his best friend, which became known as the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” At one point the group reached 20,000 members. The boys were presumably orphans made of the Dink and Nuer tribes. Many had escaped death by having been in the fields tending cattle.
The group sought refuge in ,Ethiopia and Kenya, they traveled over 1600 kms over three countries before they got to the refugee camps. Many of the children perished along the way from hunger and bombs that were dropped on and around them.
Near the end of their journey, Ngot describes a horrific scene of carnage in a swollen river the group had to cross on the border of Kenya. The river was filled with crocodiles. Ngot says although he did not listen to his parents as much as he should have, it was his father’s words that gave him courage to strap his sister on his back and swim across the river.
“He would say, it’s time to be a man,” says Ngot.
Ngot’s best friend was not so lucky. He was one of the many children who were killed in the crocodile infested waters despite Ngot’s best efforts to help him cross.
After joining the refuge camps, his aunt who was living in Red Deer, Alberta found him via an online database. She began sponsoring him and his sister to get them to Canada. Tragedy struck again however when Ngot’s aunt was killed by her ex-boyfriend.
“It didn’t stop me from persevering,” says Ngot.
Ngot and his sister were saved from going back to the refuge camp when a worker at the Canadian embassy found a friend of his aunt who decided to adopt them. That’s when his story takes a turn for the better.
In Canada, Ngot and his sister thrived. He shows a photograph of his first winter coat that had sleeves several inches too short. He chuckles about his first day at school and experiencing -30C degrees for the first time.
“I went into the kitchen and whispered to my sister: ‘Do you think we can survive this weather?’ I thought I was going to die,” says Ngot.
Ngot became a star basketball player in his high school and although he tore his knees playing basketball at a college in the USA he continued to pursue it at St. Francis-Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
That’s where Ngot is now, finishing his degree. He also discovered that his parents are still alive. He was re-united with them in 2010 when he went back to Sudan for a visit, but considers Canada “home.”
Ngot regularly does presentations at schools to share his story with students.
BRITTANY W. VERGE - THE ADVANCE