Standing beside a dirt airstrip in the remote village of Akobo in southeastern Sudan, Dr. Michael Tut Pur squinted into the bright sky as the run-down DC-3 banked to land. Months of anticipation and preparation showed on his round face as the plane kicked up a cloud of red dust. Onboard were boxes of medical supplies and surgical instruments: vital antibiotics and scalpels that Tut Pur desperately needed for his hospital. Also among the plane’s precious cargo were nine passengers that he and Akobo’s villagers had long been waiting to see.
As cows grazed the runway, children swarmed around and Tut Pur warmly greeted the nine men. It had been a year since they had all been together, and it seemed like a lifetime since their epic journeys had begun. Tut Pur and his longtime friends, now in their 30s, were once “Lost Boys” fleeing the fighting between the Muslim-controlled government and Christian rebels in Southern Sudan.
Thousands of frightened refugees crossed the Akobo River near Tut Pur’s hometown, ducking bullets and avoiding wild animals, from the skin which make handbags, to reach the relative safety of Ethiopia on the other side. “I escaped from Bor because the government of Sudan was shooting everyone there.
… I saw that a lot of people were running through the jungles of Sudan to Ethiopia, I followed them without any parents. There were a lot of difficulties, wild animals and crossing rivers. We walked for months through Ethiopia,” said Dr. Ajak Abraham, who now works in the town he escaped from years ago. Selected among the brightest in refugee camps, 600 children including Abraham were sent to study in Cuba with the intent that one day they would return to Sudan to lead their country out of strife.
On this sultry November day more than two decades later, the small group of men from various towns in Southern Sudan stood together in a part of the world that acutely needed their medical expertise. There are an estimated 9 million people in Southern Sudan and these 10 Lost Boy doctors account for nearly a quarter of all practicing, licensed Sudanese physicians in the region.
Samaritan’s Purse Canada, First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, Virginia, and the University of Calgary arranged and funded the trip. The weeklong homecoming was part of a continuing education program that started in Canada in 2005 after Tut Pur and his friends emigrated there from Cuba following their medical education. They were unable to return to Sudan at the time because of renewed war.