The Independent Life


Surviving Civil War and The Journey of a Lost Boy with Jacob Atem

February 10, 2022

Jacob was six years old when his parents and several of his siblings were killed by northern Sudanese Arab militias waging war on southern Sudan. The militia entered his village, killed men, kidnapped women and children and burned homes to the ground. Jacob was in a nearby cattle field during the attack. He ran to the forest with his older cousin to escape danger when he saw the smoke rising from the village. That day was the beginning of a thousand-mile journey for Jacob as he searched for protection amidst war.

During their journey, with northern forces closely behind, they often hid during the day and walked all night. With lion attacks a constant danger, they made timetables to decide who would sleep while the other stood watch. They ran from lion attacks and swam through alligator-infested waters, and eventually they made it to safety in Kenya.

Jacob stayed in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya until he came to the United States when he was 15. He was sent to Michigan, where he lived with a foster family and received his high school and college education. Jacob traveled to the University of Florida to get his Ph.D. after he received his bachelors and master’s degree in Michigan. He currently lives in Florida with his wife, Linda, and his two kids, Samuel Dut and Theodore Yai. He graduated in December 2017 with his Ph.D. in environmental and global health, and he plans to use his education to help people around the world.



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