African Soul, American Heart
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African Soul, American Heart

Utica, Michigan, United States | SELF

Utica, Michigan, United States | SELF
Band Comedy Spoken Word

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The best kept secret in music

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DVD...African Soul, American Hearts

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The powerful film "African Soul, American Heart" tells how one Fargo, North Dakota resident, a Sudanese Lost Boy who survived against all odds to thrive in his adopted country, now finds himself torn between responsibilities. He has been caring for younger siblings since 1998, and he has three children born in America. Yet he dreams of helping the orphaned children who live in his village in South Sudan.

"If these kids are raised from the age they are and given what they need, they will be good leaders in our nation or in our world." Joseph Akol Makeer

Joseph tours with this award winning film to colleges, churches, community centers, libraries and performing arts centers...anywhere to tell his story and garner support to save even a fraction of the children left at risk in the Sudan.

Like thirty thousand or more Sudanese children (accounts of the total numbers who left and did not survive the initial walk are uncertain), Joseph Akol Makeer walked away from his village. He was ten and it was 1987. His father and mother encouraged him to escape the genocide perpetrated by the Arab Muslim government of the North against the African Christian tribesmen of the south, but he didn't know that he would walk for months before reaching Ethiopia. He witnessed lions attacking and killing defenseless children and saw countless numbers die of dehydration and starvation. Some were left behind because their feet were too swollen to continue walking. Though Joseph wanted to turn back, he didn't know how he would make it. He couldn't know when he left that it would be more than twenty years before he would return to his homeland, and that he would never see his parents again.

He survived the walk to Ethiopia and later to Kenya, and, with minimal materials and teachers, educated himself. His traumatic childhood was not dissimilar from the lives of twenty thousand other young boys who survived the exodus and resulting exile, growing to manhood in refugee camps in Kenya. Nearly as many died.

With a nod to Peter Pan's orphaned followers, the young boys who made this walk (there were also some girls) were dubbed Lost Boys of Sudan. This is also the name used for the US program which resettled about 3800 teens and young adult men and women across the United States in 2001. Now grown, most of these refugees have prospered in America in spite of a myriad of cultural and material differences, as well dramatic climactic and geographical changes.

But Joseph was unable to travel with this initial group in 2001 due to additional responsibility he has shouldered since age 20. Hearing that people from his village had arrived at Kakuma, the refugee camp where he lived in Northern Kenya, he traveled to the registration area for news of his parents. The sad report of their deaths was made bearable by the discovery that three young sisters and a young nephew (who considers Joseph both a brother and a father) were in this group. From that point, he took on the role of parent to these dependents, ages 4-14, moving out of the Lost Boy area of the camp to an area that allowed him to raise his mixed-gendered family. Though the challenges of caring for four siblings in his early twenties might have been a burden for many young men, for Joseph, raising those siblings who survived has been a blessing.

Offered the chance to settle in the United States with his friends in the initial Lost Boy resettlement program, Joseph refused because he would have been forced to leave his siblings behind. And by then, he also had a wife. Aided by extended family who had previously emigrated to America, Joseph worked for two years to get permission for his wife and siblings to emigrate with him. They all arrived together in Fargo, North Dakota in 2003, exchanging the searing heat of Kakuma's desert for Fargo's frigid winter snowfalls, exchanging a life without future, for a future that includes college educations for himself, the older two sisters, and eventually the two siblings who are still in secondary school.

To tell this story, Joseph wrote From Africa to America, The Journey of a Lost Boy of Sudan. He began to talk to people he met about the Christians of Southern Sudan, their desire for independence from the Muslim North - to be decided by vote in 2011 - and the enormous obstacles they face in rebuilding their lives.

Although many Americans have heard of the Lost Boys of Sudan, few realize that thousands of Sudanese remain in refugee camps - not only young boys were forced out of their country. The tribesmen who survived the civil war and remained in Southern Sudan have little education and few resources. What little infrastructure once existed was destroyed, making it difficult or impossible for many refugees to return to their homeland.