As It Happens

Former 'Lost Boy' of Sudan readies for life as U.S. diplomat

Gai Nyok's new life as an American diplomat is a world away from his childhood as a refugee of war. The 29-year-old was once a "Lost Boy" of Sudan. At the age of five, the Second Sudanese War forced him, and thousands of other boys like him, out of the country.
Gai Nyok with his foster mother, Angela Will (Courtesy of the U.S. Department of State)

Gai Nyok's new life as an American diplomat is a world away from his childhood as a refugee of war. The 29-year-old was once a "Lost Boy" of Sudan. At the age of five, the Second Sudanese War forced him, and thousands of other boys like him, out of the country. He spent most of his childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp. He was eventually taken in by a foster family in the United States.

This fall, Nyok was sworn in as a U.S. foreign service officer. He'll take up his posting in Venezuela next summer.

Nyok spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off from Alexandria, Virginia, about this transformative chapter in his life.

Here is part of their conversation.

Carol Off: Guy, congratulations on officially becoming a diplomat. How does it feel?

Guy Nyok: I feel great. It's fantastic. It is a clear path that I have wanted since I came to the US. I'm very excited to be a foreign service officer.

CO: You [were] five years old when you were forced to start walking out of the war zone you were in. Do you remember much about that time?

GN:  I remember a little. We were always on the move. We didn't always have enough things to eat. We didn't have enough water to drink. And it was always hot. We didn't have shoes on. I had blisters on my feet. Now I have calluses on my feet, because of all that walking that we did when I was young.

CO: This has been a well-told story of this remarkable trek of more than 1,500 kilometers that you walked. How did you find the other boys with whom you were walking?

GN: Mine was a little bit shorter, because of the part of Sudan that I am in. But yes, it was a long walk.

CO: How did you find the other boys?

GN: Around the time the war was really intensifying in the whole of southern Sudan. At that time. Ethiopia was the closest outside territory that we could go to and find refuge. So people were walking toward the general direction of Ethiopia. And we found other people from other villages and from other provinces in southern Sudan. You just meet people. I was with one of my brothers later on in the journey. But initially I was with other cousins and another uncle

CO: And why did you and the thousands of others come to be known as the "Lost Boys"?

GN: The "Lost Boys" was a term that was given to us sometime when we came to Kenya. We were called the "Lost Boys" because we did not have family. We did not have our parents with us. It was about 15,000 to 20,000 young men between the age of maybe eight years old and sixteen. We didn't have anybody. So the "Lost Boys" was a fitting name for us.

CO: And what do you think of the fact that your first posting [as a diplomat] is to be in Venezuela?

GN: I'm excited because it offers its own challenges. It's not an easy country. But it is a new opportunity. And I feel that given my upbringing, the difficulties of Venezuela should not overwhelm me. And I look forward to that challenge.

CO: Spoken like a true diplomat.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

To hear more about Guy Nyok's incredible journey from child refugee to U.S. diplomat, select the Listen audio link above.

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