The real ‘survivor’

Published 5:35 pm Saturday, October 17, 2009

WINDSOR – No matter what you’ve been through, you can make it.

That was the message delivered to the students of the Bertie County Hive Thursday morning by William Mayom, a 27-year-old who is known as one of the “Lost Boys of the Sudan.”

During Thursday’s visit to Windsor, Mayom told the students at the Hive about how he was left without family at an early age, lived in a refugee camp, survived months in a jungle and made the trek from Sudan to Ethiopia to Kenya and, eventually, to the United States.

After arriving in this country, Mayom has graduated from Old Dominion University, earned a driver’s license and has been married and has a child. He told students at The Hive that if he could do it, they could too.

“I’m going to share with you what happened to me, my family and my village and how I survived,” Mayom told the students.

He said when he was seven years old, his village was attacked. He ran into the jungle with others and survived for three months wondering through the jungle with no food, no road to follow and only what he had on his back.

“We walked day and night and ate wild fruit, leaves, whatever we could,” he said. “There were many of my friends who were killed by lions.”

After three months, Mayom and the others arrived in Ethiopia where they were put in a refugee camp. He spent three years there living what still amounted to a refugee life.

The United Nations provided a minimal amount of food and blankets, but not enough to keep them fed.

In 1992, Mayom said there was a civil war in Ethiopia and the refugees were kicked out of the country. They had to swim across a river to Kenya and the fact that many could not swim did not matter.

“More than 11,000 people died from drowning or from being eaten by crocodiles,” Mayom said. “I saw many of my friends die.”

Again Mayom and those with him picked leaves and consumed anything edible as they made their journey to Kenya. Once arriving there, they were put in another camp.

He was allowed to go to school in the camp, but the school was under trees in severe heat. It had to be canceled for rain or any other inclement weather. Cardboard served as the chalk board for those students.

In Kenya, the UN provided a bowl of corn and a bowl of beans a week, but that wasn’t nearly enough to keep Mayom and others fed. They ate barely a meal a day.

Eventually, thanks to the United States and the UN, Mayom and others eventually came to America. He worked three jobs so he could go to school at Old Dominion and graduate.

“What I want you to understand, brothers and sisters, is from someone who was taken away from their parents at seven, always survived on my own, I never dreamed of going to university,” Mayom said. “When I came to the United States of America, I saw an opportunity I never imagined.”

Mayom impressed on the students at The Hive to never doubt they could overcome whatever obstacles are before them.

“Nothing can prevent you in this country from what I’ve seen,” he said. “The only thing you need is to work hard.”

Mayom then used a demonstration showing freedom as a big circle and a person in one corner. He then demonstrated how people give their freedom away by failing to get an education or getting in trouble. He drew lines through the circle until the person was trapped. He said that is what people did to themselves.

He told the students he had been through many things they could not imagine and some they could.

“If I am coming out of the Sahara and you’re going into the Sahara, who knows more,” he asked.

“You do,” the students responded.

Mayom then told them to believe they could be anything if they wanted to and were willing to work hard.

“Do you homework first,” he said. “Play whatever game you want to play. If you want to be an NBA player, fine, but do your homework first.”

He told them to take responsibility for themselves.

“If you get an ‘A’ you are proud and think what a good job you did,” he said. “If you get an ‘F’ you say it was a bad teacher. I want you not to blame your parents, not to blame your teachers, you can make the decisions.”

Mayom was welcomed by the students who asked questions for several minutes after he finished.

“Think about the challenges he’s gone through,” said Hive Director Vivian Saunders told the group. “Think about the whining we hear from you. You think you go through something, but look at what he’s been through.”

One of the students said Mayom’s words meant a lot to him.

“It sometimes feels like I’ve been a lost boy,” said Rasheed Bunch. “Before I came here, it seemed like no one wanted me in their school. They always wanted me gone. That changed when I came here.

“I was starting to feel that way a little bit again before today, but he made me think,” Bunch said. “I sometimes have felt nobody goes through more than me, but now I see someone who went through jungles.”

Bunch said the talk had an effect on him.

“I’m going to do the same thing he did in my life. He’s my hero now,” Bunch said. “I want to be just like him when I grow up.”