My new neighbor (Hi, Julia!) sent along a note about an amazing program tonight at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Center Road. Dr. Jacob Atem, Lost Boy of Sudan, public health practitioner, and global humanitarian, will tell his remarkable story tonight – Monday, September 18 – at the Unitarian church from 6 – 8 p.m. This educational event is free and open to the public, and comes to us by way of Julia’s mom, Cheryl, a middle school teacher in the Ann Arbor area who’s become friends with Jacob over the years.
As a young Dinka boy growing up in Maar, South Sudan, Jacob’s job was to wake up at dawn and take his family’s goats and cows to find grass and water. One morning in 1991, as he was caring for the animals, Jacob heard gunfire and screaming. When he ran to see what happened, he saw his village on fire. The rebel forces from Northern Sudan had invaded, and he knew his family members had been killed. He was six years old.
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He, along with an estimated 26,000 to 30,000 young boys whose villages had been destroyed, started walking. As they trekked nearly 2,000 miles through Africa’s wilderness, they faced malnutrition, dehydration, exhaustion, communicable diseases, wild animals, and armed gunmen. Approximately 10,000 of the boys died before reaching refugee camps in Kenya.
After nine years at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, Jacob was resettled in a foster home in Lansing, Michigan. He found himself in a classroom for the first time, as a high school freshman. He realized that a career in public health was a way he could help the vulnerable populations he left behind in Africa. He has dedicated his life’s work to this goal.
Jacob earned his Master’s of Public Health at Michigan State University and completed his Ph.D. in Environmental and Global Health at the University of Florida. His life story resonates as a powerful testament to resilience, determination, and the unwavering pursuit of positive change. As the CEO and co-founder of the Southern Sudan Healthcare Organization (SSHCO), he has channeled his personal journey into a beacon of hope, bringing transformative impact to the lives of countless individuals and families in his homeland of South Sudan.
His transformation from a Lost Boy to a compassionate leader embodies the strength of the human spirit and the profound impact that one individual can have on the world. Jacob’s life journey showcases the extraordinary potential that arises from turning personal adversity into a force for positive change—a journey that continues to inspire and uplift countless lives.
Join others tonight at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse, 6726 Center Road on the Old Mission Peninsula, from 6 – 8 p.m. to hear Dr. Jacob Atem’s inspiring presentation about his life and work in South Sudan.
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and magazines like Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So of course, I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the Old Mission Peninsula. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb