Bok, who could only speak his
native tribal language as a child, said he couldn’t understand why they hated
knew that I couldn’t fight back, because if I do, I would get killed,” Bok said
at a recent appearance at the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury.
That terrible night in 1986, Bok’s
captors took him into Northern Sudan and forced him to be a child slave for an
Arab family. He never saw his parents or sisters again, and learned years later
that they were burned alive in the raid on his Southern Sudan village.
Although his masters were cruel and
spat on and beat Bok daily, he never lost hope.
may not have anyone to talk to me and to love me but I know God does,” he said.
Bok said he dreamed of being free
and growing up to be like the man his father was.
would say I never lost hope because I’m a believer.” Every day, he hoped that
someone would come to rescue him.
Over the years, Bok learned to
speak and understand Arabic. Once he asked his master why they treated him so
poorly and called him “abd,” which means a black slave in Arabic.
His master told him it was because
he was an animal, Bok said.
made me mad. I said, ‘I’m not an animal.’”
Bok and fellow black slaves in the
area were terrified of escaping. They were threatened with forced amputations or
torture if they even attempted to escape.
But Bok knew he had to try.
my heart, I said I would rather die than be a slave.”
After the second failed attempt to
flee, his master held him at gunpoint. But he never lost faith. He prayed to God
to save his life, and thought that if he prayed maybe God would deliver him.
But in 1996, 10 years after he
first was forced to leave his family and friends behind, 17-year-old Bok managed
to escape the home of his masters and flee to Cairo, Egypt, where he found
refuge in a church.
Three years later, an American man
helped him move to the United States.
In order to live in the U.S., Bok
needed to seek refugee status through the United Nations. He said he had to tell
the story of his life to U.N. officials in a long trial. Yet, he said, “It was
my story. It didn’t matter how long it took.”
When he entered his first apartment
in America after being accepted as a refugee, Bok said he was in complete
disbelief of his situation.
would ever again control me.”
Alone in his Fargo, North Dakota,
apartment, Bok spread his arms wide and said, “Now I am a free man.”
But while he was celebrating, he
wondered what he could do to help those he left behind.
was concerned nobody knew what was happening in Sudan,” he said.
With the help of writer Edward
Tivnan, Bok authored
Escape from Slavery: The True Story of My Ten Years in
Captivity and My Journey to Freedom in America, published in 2004 by St.
Bok also partnered with Sudan
Sunrise, a group aimed at spreading the word of the horrors of the current
Sudanese conflict in the Darfur region.
One of their initiatives is to
raise enough money to build a school in Bok’s hometown, hopefully before next
May, which is the beginning of the rainy season. Currently, Bok said there are
classes that take place under the tree near where his father’s house used to be.
But he feels this is not enough.
“Everything is priority because they don’t have anything.”
Because of his involvement in
Sudanese awareness groups, Bok was able to visit his village in February.
Bok described the return to his
homeland as a “very, very hard” experience. He said he didn’t recognize the
empty place where his house once stood.
couldn’t really comprehend,” he said.
Bok even reunited with his brother,
who was also captured by the military during the raid. Bok says their meeting
His brother, one of the Lost Boys,
was forced to become a soldier. Bok said his brother believes the solution is to
say no, solution is to reconcile.”
Currently Bok, who lives with his
wife and two sons in Massachusetts, visits schools, religious centers to tell
his story. He even testified before Congress and visited the White House to
speak of his ordeal.
But of all the people Bok speaks
to, he said the young people are the most important to reach.
we will be the leaders of the world,” he said.
Bok said the “U.S. government has a
strong voice” in determining the fate of Sudan. But, he said, “America can’t do
it alone. It’s all of us together.”
He said the future of Sudan, which
is due for a referendum in 2011, depends on three things: “reconciliation, peace
Some Sudanese people, he said, have
a “hard time forgiving Darfurians” for the conflict that occurred when Bok was a
But he said, “Let’s not look back,
let’s go forward.”
Bok recognizes that some Americans
may feel that the current Sudanese conflict might not be a big concern, but he
knows it is important.
There is “no such minor issue,” he
said, “when it’s about humanity.”