Sebastian Maroundit was just a child when his family, fearful of armed rebels invading their southern Sudanese village, told him to run for it.
It sent the nine-year-old on a barefoot journey across the country to find food, water, and safety, with a faint hope that he would see his family again.
Maroundit was a “Lost Boy,” one of more than 20,000 children displaced by the Civil War and the basis of A Long Walk to Water, a book by Brighton author Linda Sue Park read by Heather Manns’ seventh-grade English class at Midlakes.
“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet a ‘Lost Boy’ and hear first-hand what they’ve gone through,” said Manns. “Their eyes were just glued on him. You could see the empathy.”
Maroundit, who eventually resettled in the Rochester area with the help of the United Nations, visited Manns’ students to bring home the lessons of empathy and modern-day tragedy of his war-torn country.
He told students about learning a new language, understanding what “cold” weather is, and reconnecting with surviving family members 18 years after leaving home in 1989.
“It is not easy,” said Maroundit. “It is like being born again. Am I going to be welcome?”
Today, Maroundit has shared his journey with more than 500 schools or colleges across the country as part of the Pittsford-based Building Minds in South Sudan, a charitable group he helped start to educate children in his native country.
“He’s brave and strong,” said Ella Weykman, a seventh-grader, who met with Maroundit. “He came back from the bad experience he had and made an impact to help kids.”
Building Minds in South Sudan has raised funds to build multiple schools in South Sudan, where most of the children have never attended school, since it became its own country in 2011. In early 2020, the organization plans to open a school with water from a new well for girls.
The organization’s first school opened in 2015 and serves roughly 900 children.
“I didn’t know southern Sudan was a place until I read this book,” said Nick Donk. “It is just crazy that people had to experience what he went through and not knowing what was going to happen. I feel very fortunate.”
For more information about Building Minds in South Sudan, visit www.bmiss.org.