The Lost Boys from South Sudan have seen the worst in life and are still trying to find the best. After escaping the war-torn nation, many made their new home in Sioux Falls. And now, one Lost Boy is giving back to his home village years after leaving.
"I remember that day, way back," Moses Joknhial II said.
You can call Moses Joknhial a "Lost Boy." Some 25 years ago North and South Sudan were locked in a civil war. His home village in the South was under attack from the North. A group of children, without adults, were forced to flee.
"Along the way a lot of friends being eaten by lion and some eaten by rhino and some dying because they couldn't walk," Joknhial said.
Only nine-years old at the time, he thought they were just leaving for the day and would soon return to the village. Little did he know it would turn into a 1,000 mile march.
"The youngest one is 5-years old and the oldest was 15. And this was by no parents and no, just no shoes only a few blankets on the way," Joknhial said.
The group eventually made their way to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. They stayed there until war once again threw them out. A camp in Kenya turned into their new home for many years. After a group of journalists brought their story to life, the Lost Boys were offered America as a new place to call home. Joknhail's first experience in the skies was headed to the USA. The date, September 11, 2001.
"They say you are not allowed to come to United States because there is a terrorist attack, the World Trade Center. I hear the microphone in the cabin say that we have a terrorist attack, the World Trade Center. So we are not going to America, we will be going to Canada. At this time I couldn't believe that this would happen," Joknhial said.
He did eventually get into the US and in fact has been quite successful. While you might think that first experience in the skies would lead him away from aviation, it did the exact opposite. He received an electrician license from Mitchell Technical Institute, got his pilot's license in 2005, graduated with an aviation tech degree from Watertown Technical Institute in 2008, and got his instrument rating at South Dakota State University. That's where he'll also graduate with an Aviation Management and Education degree this December. He left his village a shoeless nine-year-old. The first time he returned, he landed the plane. And he's been giving back ever since.
"We build the school. We put the water well donated by the community of Watertown, South Dakota, provided water for Southern Sudan. And also we have corn grinder, four machines," Joknhial said.
Those four machines are what let young women go to school. Instead of having to grind corn by hand all day, they can now get an education.
Sioux Falls resident Rhona Morse has been helping Joknhial since he had the idea to give back to his village.
"He gets things accomplished; he accomplished a lot since he's been here," Morse said.
With no roads, a pickup was used to go cross country to get building supplies. That lifeline has now died, but a dream has not.
"We're going to be going on to provide a medical clinic and a women's center. And for that we need a truck. And so one of goals right now and one of our missions is to purchase this truck. And so we have a campaign called Keep On Trucking," Morse said.
Part of the campaign is a walk-a-thon this coming Wednesday.
"Would you be willing to walk a couple of miles for those who had to walk 1000 miles?" Morse asked.
"Pretend you are walking 1000 miles, even if it's five miles, go ahead and take your container of water and walk and leave your car at home. Try and to do that and that will be fun," Joknhial said.
And while it might only be a short walk here in America, it will make the all the difference a world away.
"Currently people are treated outside under a tree, just like they attended school, was outside under a tree," Morse said.
"The only thing up 'till now is a place you can get some basic treatment. Like, someone got wound or someone got headache. They don't got that one and that why we got grant. Looking forward to start to build that," Joknhial said.
And if you ask the man who's behind it all, 'why?' The answer is quite simple.
"I will take the same thing that America gave me here. So I will take this opportunity back into my village," Joknhial said.
A donor has agreed to match donations up to $10,000. To learn more about Joknhial's projects, visit the South Sudan Education website.