How do individuals survive in challenging environments? How do culture, time, and place influence the development of identity?

Each Lost Boys has a similar story, they parents were killed during an attack of their village, leading them to begin their extraordinary exodus. At the end of their epic journey, some boys had walked for 2000 km, an equivalent of hiking from Paris to Roma.
Credit: Itang, Ethiopia. UNHCR / W. Stone / 1991

Article Author: Junie Eimiller

Mrs. Eimiller is the 2016 Education Committee Chairperson and a 2013-14 Teacher Fellow at the Jackson Center. She is a full-time English teacher and JCC College Connections instructor at Southwestern High School. She also works as the advisor of the school’s newspaper and co-advisor of the yearbook

How do individuals survive in challenging environments? How do culture, time, and place influence the development of identity? These are just some of the guiding questions encompassed in New York State’s English Language Arts teaching modules. In the eight-week curriculum for Grade 7 Module 1, students explore the experiences of the people of Southern Sudan during and after the Second Sudanese Civil War. Unit 1 begins with a close reading of A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.
This New York Times bestseller begins as two alternating narratives set in the Sudan: The first is a 2008 fictional account of an eleven-year-old village girl named Nya; the second is the inspiring true story, which begins in 1985, of Salva Dut, one of some 3,800 Sudanese “Lost Boys” airlifted to the United States beginning in the mid 1990s. The book, published by Clarion Books on November 15, 2010, immerses the reader in the dangerous, difficult conditions that exist as Salva flees his homeland, one of many countries in protracted crisis: According to the article “Crisis and Opportunity: Protracted Displacement in Sudan” by Colin Thomas-Jensen, Deputy Director of the Washington Office of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, “Protracted displacement is a grim reality for millions of Sudanese civilians caught on the front lines of the interconnected civil wars that have wracked Sudan since its independence in 1956.”

Salva Dut, Water for South Sudan
Credit: Salva Dut, Water for South Sudan

In addition to the massive displacement caused by conflict, the Sudanese have faced decades of violence, hunger, and chaos: “Conditions that prevail in Sudan today—environmental degradation, drought and famine, civil war, repression, and sharp deterioration in economic and living conditions for the majority of the population—reflect a long process of bad leadership in the country since independence in January 1956,” according to Dr. Benaiah Yongo-Bure, an assistant professor of Social Science at Kettering University and an expert on Sudan. Park’s book offers compelling portrayals of two adolescents’ long, perilous journeys in these severe, hostile environments; thus, it is the perfect selection for the Robert H. Jackson Center’s 12th Annual Young Reader’s Program, slated for May 11-12, which strives to bring awareness of and appreciation for the principles of justice and the rule of law.
Because so many young people today live in a cultural bubble—absorbed in their busy schedules and technology—they are oblivious to the harsh realities and humanitarian crises around the world. Reading A Long Walk to Water really does bring about an awareness as it focuses on the extraordinary challenges that exist in a war-torn region like the Sudan. Furthermore, students can easily relate to the narratives as the main characters are similar in age (to middle school readers) when their plights begin.
The beauty of A Long Walk to Water is that, ultimately, it delivers a powerful message that can resonate not only with young readers, but with audiences of all ages: hope and persevere despite overwhelming odds. Really, the entire world could take a lesson from Salva, in particular, who ascertains the physical and emotional resources needed in order to survive life’s trials and tribulations.

Lost Boys of Sudan Walking
Credit: HumaniBank

The Young Readers Program is part of an annual tradition of hosting educational events with prominent authors on subjects related to civil rights, Nuremberg, the Holocaust, and other important moments in history. Each year, the Jackson Center partners with the Law, Youth and Citizenship Program of the New York State Bar Association to bring an author to the center in celebration of the important contribution young people’s literature makes to lifelong literacy, education and good citizenship. The program is a branch of the ongoing mission of the Robert H. Jackson Center to educate youth on the legacy of United State Supreme Court Justice and Nuremberg prosecutor Robert H. Jackson and his relevance to current national and global issues.
Since the program’s inception, the center has hosted many renowned authors. The past three years alone brought noteworthy names: in 2015, Charles J. Shields author of Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, a portrait of the famous creator of the beloved Atticus Finch and his daughter Scout; in 2014, Sharon Robinson author of Jackie’s Nine, a tribute to the famous baseball player and civil rights hero who successfully broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball; and in 2013, Karen Levine, author of the award-winning book Hana’s Suitcase, the story that connects Hana Brady, a young Jewish girl who was murdered at Auschwitz, with a Japanese curator determined to share her story.
Currently, there are over twelve hundred students from surrounding school districts registered for Park’s presentation scheduled at the Reg Lenna for one morning (10:00 a.m.) and one afternoon (12:30 p.m.) session on May 12th. Her visit will commence on May 11th with a private reception and book signing, which will extend an opportunity for students, sponsors and staff members to meet her. Following the signing, the center will host a dinner reception for the students, their parents and NY Bar Law Youth and Citizenship staff, who award the prize money to winners of the Young Readers’ Essay Contest, which focused the book’s powerful tribute to the spirit of survival and how individuals can make a difference in their communities. The essay awards ($500 for 1st place, $250 for 2nd place and $100 for 3rd place) will be presented in front of the student body during the May 12th morning session.