Sudanese 'Lost Boy' Takes Path to Medicine and Humanity
By Vincent Reda
Alex Logono was nine years old when the bombs of the Sudanese government struck in the middle of the night.
Lying to his side was his aunt Maria, whom he slept with each night in a small family compound of huts within the southern Sudan village of Lanyi. As he rose, confused and in fear, he saw blood between them, on her bedclothes and on his. He tried to rouse her, but the blood was all hers, and she was dead.
Young Alex ran outside, to witness bedlam. "All over the village, there is burning, people running." He joined their flight into the jungle. That was 18 years ago. He has not seen his family since.
Today, Alex Logono is a senior biology major at the University, pursuing a goal he set for himself upon witnessing 13 years of deadly aftermath to that night of his village's bombing. Logono seeks to become a doctor and to return to ease the suffering of those who remain.
"If God helps me to get to medical school, then the first thing I must do is go back and help — because my people need help," he said.
Logono believes his faith has allowed him to endure, braving a thousand miles of wandering that brought the survivors among "The Lost Boys of the Sudan" to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya in 1992. They had fled with thousands of other terrified young children from government troops bent on punishing the Christians and Animists in the south for not accepting radical Islamic Sharia law.
From Sudan, Logono and tens of thousands of others had first found a U.N. camp in Ethiopia. After that nation's government was overthrown in a rebellion, however, the refugees had to run back to Sudan, and were allowed to enter the Kakuma Refugee Camp, in Kenya, in 1992.
It was hardly a safe haven. "It was so dry there — no trees, just stumps, and dusty," said Logono. Children died of respiratory diseases or from horrid sanitary conditions. Logono, like many others, slept on a raised pile of dirt. The camp had four doctors for its 83,000 refugees.
In 1992-93, however, the camp, aided by international organizations, opened a school. Beginning in about 4th grade, Logono progressed rapidly, learning both English and Swahili, and graduating high school in 1999. Immediately, he volunteered at the International Rescue Committee hospital and became one of 20 refugees to receive training in medical assistance. He began diagnosing sick patients, prescribing medicine and conducting educational programs on health-related issues.
This was Logono's life until 2000, when "like a dream," foreign journalists came to write about the camp's parentless boys. After some months, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) informed Logono and 4,500 others that the American government had approved their emigration to America. He arrived in the U.S. on Sept. 25, 2001, and shortly after, through the sponsorship of the Lutheran Church Federation, was sent to Utica.
There, he gave up his government rent and food assistance in order to enter Mohawk Valley Community College. "Social Services told me if I chose school, they would cut everything, including Food Stamps. 'Well,' I said, 'I am not going to starve. If I didn't starve in Sudan, I am not going to starve here.'" He found a job at a local hospital just days before classes began. "God was with me," said Logono. "I could pay my rent.
In college, his direction was clear, and decided long before. "I made the decision when I was in Kenya to be a doctor. I see so many of my close friends die of things they could have been cured of."
About to graduate from Mohawk Valley, Logono heard that the University at Albany was "big and has a nice science program." He was accepted for fall 2004, taking a fulltime load of classes while working 24 hours per week at St. Peter's Hospital as a technical care associate.
Today, he is grateful for the opportunity he received at UAlbany, and for the encouragement of faculty and staff such as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Carson Carr and biology instructor Alice Jacklet.
Two years ago, he found out that his stepfather had died from a disease easily curable with proper medical care. He gets messages to and from his mother occasionally through friends who live in Uganda and occasionally travel to impoverished Sudan. He wishes to enter that often desperate world again, to make it less desperate.
"What is the use of being here, eating good food, sleeping well, when others are suffering?" said Logono. "I must be with the people I know who are suffering, and I must try to make a difference."