How Boy Defied Atrocities To Tell Compelling Story

by Gazette Reporter
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Declan Coyle

It is so saddening to see the outside world standing idly by while terrible situation recurs in Afghanistan.

People my age have seen such atrocities occur many times in our lifetime and the thought of one more is really depressing. I am encouraged though by the number of  young people here in Ireland who feel outrage at what the US and other countries have allowed to happen.

Knowing the personal suffering people, and in particular women, will  feel under this new Taliban regime, it is hard to look at what’s unfolding with any optimism. However I want to open up a similar case from the past where there was at least a positive outcome.  Here is Lopez Lomong’s story: “I was six years old in Southern Sudan when I was ripped me from my mother’s arms, and thrown with other boys into a truck. They blindfolded us, then drove us to a prison camp that trained rebel soldiers.”

It was 1991, when Lopez’s home village of Kimotong was attacked by rebels in the second Sudanese civil war. The 27-year-old 1500m runner, one of the ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’ captured the world’s attention at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he led the US team in the opening ceremony as the flag-bearer. By then he had become an American citizen.

I had the privilege of presenting Lopez with the 2014 Alltech Annual Humanitarian Award.  Introducing Lopez to about 2,000 participants from 60 nations, the late Dr Pearse Lyons, president of Alltech simply said in honouring him: “The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.”

As Lopez told his remarkable story, there were people in tears across the room.

In the prison camp, along with 80 other boys, Lopez was crammed into a hut, where he survived on sorghum mixed with sand. The boys were beaten with a cane by the soldiers who gave them a clear message: “You dare not escape, or even think of escaping.”

However, Lopez did escape with the help of ‘Three Angels,’ a story he recounts in his autobiography, Running for My Life (Thomas Nelson).

On a moonless night the four children slipped out of the room, crawled on their bellies, and slid through a hole in a fence. It was so dark that when he was running he didn’t know whether he would run into a tree.

“The savannas are very tough. We ran for three days. My legs and feet were bleeding. When I wanted to stop, my angels (the other three boys) carried me.”

Eventually the four boys hobbled into the United Nations–sponsored Kakuma refugee camp near Nairobi, Kenya, where he remained for 10 years.

At Kakuma, food was sparse and refugees rummaged through garbage for scraps.

If running saved Lopez’s life from one circumstance, writing saved him from another. He entered an essay competition and his life story won the competition. The prize: A trip to America. He then discovered that running was more than just a way of transportation, and dodging bullets. While in Kenya in 2000 he saw Michael Johnson on a small TV  winning a gold medal. That fired up his dream to run in the Olympics.

Feeling compelled to use his talents and use his own story to give back to those less fortunate, he founded the 4 South Sudan team to help provide clean water, health care, education, and nutrition to the South Sudanese.

“When I run now, I keep thinking about the children I had to leave behind, those who did not have the opportunity I had,” Lopez said.

He had three pearls of wisdom for those listening:

 1- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.

2 – You are not given opportunities. You make them.

3 – You have the ability and the responsibility to make a difference in our world.

He concluded: “I am just one voice for the thousands of children who rely on us to make a difference in this world. Running is the talent that God has given to me. When you are given a talent, you can put it in your pocket and not use it, or you can use it.

Today, I would like you to think of the God given talent you have and ask you to make it your business this week to use it. If you decide to start running again, even if you haven’t done so for a decade or three, then you will change your own life’s story. More than that, you may also change those around you… family or workmates who see you being pro-active.

One guarantee I can give you if you make that positive decision is you will never regret taking exercise…. Our only regret is when we make an excuse not to do it.

Click on link to read more in this weeks Digital Edition

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