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Sudanese Refugee Recounts Boyhood Journey to Escape Civil War

Bol Riiny speaks to Blue Mountain Middle School students on May 7, 2024.

Bol Riiny, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” spoke to students on May 7, 2024, at Blue Mountain Middle School and Hendrick Hudson High School, providing them with a glimpse into his harrowing, thousand-mile journey from the frontlines of the brutal Second Sudanese Civil War to safety in the United States.

The program was funded by a grant from the Hendrick Hudson Community Educational Foundation.

Mr. Riiny recounted how, as an 8-year-old boy in 1990, he escaped from his home after tanks and soldiers invaded his hometown. He traveled across harsh desert and jungle terrain from South Sudan to Ethiopia and Kenya. That journey led Mr. Riiny to be known as one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” a group of more than 20,000 Sudanese boys who were forced to escape or became orphans during the ongoing civil conflict, which lasted 22 years.

During his visit with Hendrick Hudson students, Mr. Riiny spoke of the loss, perseverance and hope he had experienced — first as a refugee and later, after moving to the United States in 2000, as an immigrant.

Mr. Riiny held question-and-answer sessions with students throughout the day, shedding light on everything from his favorite American foods to his home country’s ongoing struggles. He urged students to be grateful, help others, and work hard in the pursuit of goals.

“His struggles to obtain basic living needs showed me how lucky I am to be in a safe community with food, water, and a roof over my head,” seventh-grade student Jimmy Hyland said.

“I learned to never take things for granted,” Arabella Booth added. “And when you have something, don’t waste it.”

For many students, Mr. Riiny’s visit connected to their study of “A Long Walk to Water,” a novel written by Linda Sue Park, who weaved together the three-decades-old true story of Salva Dut — one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” like Riiny — and a fictional young South Sudanese girl who traveled eight hours each day to fetch water from the nearest pond.