Sudanese Refugee to Share His Story at Genesee Community College

At about age 6, Jacob Atem escaped Sudan after his parents were killed by a government-backed militia. Jacob, along with thousands of other boys, left southern Sudan on foot and, during the next five years, made their way to refugee camps, first in Ethiopia and later in Kenya.

Jacob’s story as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan will be the subject of his upcoming presentation at Genesee Community College on Wednesday, April 2, 2008 at 7:00 pm in Room T102. The event, sponsored by Genesee’s Global Education Department and the Student Government Association is free and open to the public.

Sudan has been involved in a civil war fueled by religious, ethnic, and regional strife since the mid 1980s. Thousands of children have experienced trauma and intense hardship as a result of the ongoing violence. Their story has been called the Lost Boys of Sudan because they arrived at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya without parents. The name describes a generation of Sudanese boys, approximately 26,000 boys total, who were driven from their tribal villages by this devastating civil war.

Those who survived a brutal river crossing walked for more than a year to reach Kenya. Only half of the original boys, about 10,000-12,000, survived the journey and arrived in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya in 1992. The majority of them were between the ages of 8 and 18 (most were not sure of their exact age and were assigned approximate ages by aid workers). Jacob survived this harrowing journey along with his cousin, Michael, who carried Jacob on his back for much of the time. Had the boys been found by the Sudanese militia, they would have been killed on sight.

Once Jacob made it to the refugee camp he spent the next nine years there, enduring hardships including near-starvation and disease. At the age of fifteen, Jacob was brought to the United States through a relief effort that helped the exiled boys find new homes. In the US, Jacob graduated from high school and went on to earn a college degree. He now speaks to groups whenever possible in an effort to share his story and the plight of his people, more than 2 million of whom have been slain or died of disease and starvation as a result of the war.

“This presentation is really a once in a lifetime experience,” said Dr. Karin-Kovach Allen, Dean of Human Communications and Behavior at Genesee. “After you hear his story, you will be in awe of how caring and positive he is, and what he has accomplished already in his young life.”

For more information, contact Nina Mortellaro, Academic Support Assistant with Genesee’s Human Communications and Behavior Department at 585-343-0055 x6228 or by email at