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Ithaca College Supports Humanitarian Effort to Repatriate Sudanese Refugees with Social History Profiles From Refugee Camp
Contributed by Michael A. Malpass on 10/13/2010
The Anthropology Department at Ithaca College has been instrumental in helping to launch an international project aimed at repatriating Sudanese “Lost Boy” and “Lost Girl” refugees with personal history files that were generated for them as they entered Pignudo Refugee Camp in Ethiopia during the late 1980s.
These refugees were unaccompanied minors who had been brutally displaced from their families by violent attacks from the Sudanese government on their home villages. Many perished while fleeing on foot. For those who made it to Pignudo, Save the Children Sweden created an entry file. Each file contains a thorough personal history, health and psychological profiles and in most cases a photograph.
As civil war erupted in Ethiopia Pignudo began to close down and the refugees were forced to flee back into Sudan. They again journeyed hundreds of miles on foot to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. As Pignudo was closing humanitarian workers recognized the value of the files and, through a grant from the Mellon Foundation, scanned more than thirteen-thousand of them into a database. In 2004 the database was entrusted to the AZ Lost Boys Center in Phoenix, AZ and to David Turkon, who at the time worked for Glendale Community College in Glendale, AZ. Both parties entered into an agreement with Save the Children representatives to work toward making the files accessible to Lost Boys and Lost Girls around the world.
The project has been difficult to implement for a many reasons, including the crude ways that data was entered into an Excel spreadsheet database and weak search criteria with inconsistent spelling of names and places. Ithaca College and the Ithaca College Department of Anthropology supported early efforts to integrate the database into a searchable format that could be accessed via the world wide web. Recently, volunteers in Arizona streamlined the database and improved search criteria by adding “sounds like” features that make identifying names and places easier. Also, the database has been reformatted enabling qualified searchers to view the first page of each document to see if it is indeed their own.
At a national conference for Lost Boys and Girls during the summer of 2009 the project was named Lost Boys Reunited. The project’s website went online in early September of 2010 and the site has since had more than four-thousand visits. More importantly, more than 300 refugees have located and requested copies of their files. No one can predict what needs or curiosities will be fulfilled as each refugee receives his or her file. For some it will simply be to obtain the photograph. For others, however, the files may provide a vital link with their past that enables them to reestablish family connections that may have been lost in memory. In at least one case, a refugee is using the file to validate his identity, prior to having taken a Christian name, when he married at Kakuma refugee camp. This will hopefully strengthen his case to bring his bride to the United States.
Each refugee who locates their file has it mailed to them along with a letter explaining the history of the project and acknowledging Ithaca College’s support for it. David Turkon of the Anthropology Department, who has been at the forefront of the effort, is a signatory to the letter. David’s efforts were supported by the Ithaca College Center for Faculty Research and Development. The project was also directly supported by Ithaca College Grants for Creative, Collaborative, and Community Service and/or Service Learning Projects, and internal funding from the Ithaca College Anthropology Department.
The website for the project, Lost Boys Reunited, can be found at http://www.lostboysreunited.org/