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At Jacksonville Library, Former Sudanese 'Lost Boy' Finds Hope

Ryan Benk

Some refugees living in Jacksonville were once Lost Boys. That was what aid workers called more than 20,000 boys of minority ethnic groups who fled Sudan during a civil war in the early 80s.

On Monday, one of them could be found at the Jacksonville Public Library, where he’s searching for an education.

Children on a field trip at the downtown library Monday didn’t realize it, but they were walking one floor above the Center for Adult Learning.

Peter Malek is one of hundreds of people who go there to learn English, get a high school diploma or learn work skills.

Malek wasn't that much older than the kids upstairs when he had to flee ethnic cleansing in 1983.

“The soldiers of the government came at night and burned the houses at nighttime,” Malek said. “It was midnight. Maybe like at 1 o’clock in the morning? They just burned houses and everybody scattered out.”

The next morning Malek and thousands more Dinka boys traveled on foot, sometimes thousands of miles, to the nearest refugee camp in Ethiopia. After four years there, Malek again was forced to travel on foot because of violence, eventually making it to Kenya. It was there that he took in interest in learning.

“They built us a school. They gave us a lot of materials, exercise, books, all kinds of stuff. Just like this, they bring everything,” he said.

After nine years in Kenya, he was resettled in Jacksonville by the United Nations Refugee Agency. Now he’s well on his way to earning his high-school diploma.

“I’m going to keep going to get whatever I need. I have a plan to go back home,” he said.

Malek says he loves Jacksonville and is so grateful for what he’s learned. But he wants to reunite with his family and help bring peace to his country. 

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.