It’s Refugee Week and author of Father of the Lost Boys Yuot A. Alaak is celebrating by using the launch for his memoir to raise money for his new charitable foundation. Yuot has established the Ajang Alaak Foundation in his dad’s honour to help promote education, especially among vulnerable girls, both in Australia and in South Sudan, Ajang Alaak Foundation. Tickets to the launch are $10, with all funds going to the foundation. Details are below, but first hear from Yuot as he shares some of his experiences with us and tells us more about the book.
Your book is a very personal account of a period of great danger that you endured. Tell us more about it.
Father of the Lost Boys tells the story of my father, Mecak Ajang Alaak, who led almost 20,000 unaccompanied minors out of danger during Africa’s longest running civil war. It is an eyewitness account by me, who once trained as a child soldier and walked by my father’s side, sometimes clutching an AK-47 as I slept next to him. Before taking on his central role with the now-famous Lost Boys of Sudan, Dad was a prominent educator imprisoned by a government that served its own propaganda interests by announcing his death over the radio. We conducted his funeral, only to discover he was still alive. Dad returned to a hero’s welcome and to one of the most challenging tasks imaginable. The story follows the Lost Boys as they journey through rainforests, savannah and desert to escape a genocidal war and devastation. I saw my father at times of immense stress, but also witnessed his determination to guide the Lost Boys towards a brighter future. Although many succumbed to starvation and thirst, drowned in treacherous rivers, or died as the result of aerial bombardments, landmine explosions, gunshot wounds and wild animal attacks, most of the Lost Boys survived. Their story is of global significance and has featured on the BBC, CNN and The Oprah Winfrey Show. But Dad’s remarkable story as leader, teacher and father of the Lost Boys has never previously been told, until now.
What were some of the hardest things about your journey?
The hardest thing was the constant fear of death. You were only ever a moment away from dying, whether through a gunshot, a bomb falling from above or a lion snatching you. Of course, chronic hunger and sheer exhaustion were always a real pain. Many times, I would feel like my entire body was going to fall into a million pieces, but I had to keep on marching, as did thousands, because the alternative was death.
Though you endured all the hardships that everyone else did, there’s never a sense of you complaining. There is only your admiration for your parents and how they looked after you and others. Was this outlook common to other Lost Boys or do you think you are innately a glass half full type of person?
The South Sudanese are a very positive people, despite the brutality of their wartime experiences. The Lost Boys were always appreciative of all those that helped him. Because they had so much denied to them, they learned to appreciate the little that was afforded them. And yes, my glass is always half full and I assume that is the case for the Lost Boys.
What made you decide to write this book now?
Maya Angelou! Her words ‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you’ rang true to me. I wrote this story to free myself of that agony. I’ve refused to let my past define my future, but I think this is an important story and I believe it will resonate with many of my fellow Aussies – most of whom have their own migrant stories, dating as far back as 1788 or as late as yesterday.
Fundraiser with Amnesty Margaret River
As part of Refugee Week, Amnesty Margaret River will host a discussion between Yuot A. Alaak and ABC broadcaster and author Bill Bunbury. Yuot will share the true story behind his memoir, Father of the Lost Boys, which recounts the journey of 20,000 displaced Sudanese boys to the safety of the Kakuma Refugee Camp led by his father, Mecak Ajang Alaak. All funds from ticket purchases for the event will be donated to the Ajang Alaak Refugee Foundation.
Spots are open for guests to either attend in person at the Augusta Margaret River Shire Chambers or online.
When: 6.15 pm AWST Thursday 18 June 2020
Book your online spot here.
In Conversation: Yuot A. Alaak and Sisonke Msimang at the Centre for Stories
Join Yuot A. Alaak in conversation with Sisonke Msimang in an online event where they’ll be discussing mentorships, memoir-writing and the release of Yuot's debut book, Father of the Lost Boys. Yuot worked alongside Sisonke in the Centre for Stories mentoring project for writers of African heritage in 2017. This resulted in the publication of his short story ‘The Lost Girl of Pajomba’ in the Ways of Being Here anthology, a Centre for Stories joint publication with Margaret River Press.
When: 6 pm AWST Thursday 25 June 2020
Book your online spot here.