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FILM: Coming to America

"The Lost Boys of Sudan" shows what we've done for refugees, and what we can do better.


Chuor and Dut were brought to Houston by the YMCA, but Lost Boys were placed in cities across the country by various aid organizations. Lost Boys began arriving in Richmond in late 2000, with the aid of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, a co-sponsor and host of the Aug. 17 event. That screening, also co-sponsored by Refugee and Immigration Services (RIS)/Catholic Diocese of Richmond, will be held at St. Michael's Catholic Church, 4491 Springfield Road in Glen Allen. A reception begins at 6 p.m., and the film will follow at 6:45. Then there will be a brief panel discussion.

According to Olivia Faries, who directs foster care programs at CCC, the group resettled about 45 Lost Boys in this region, all minors younger than 18 with no adult relatives, placing them in foster homes and group homes. "Many of ours came in at 17," Faries says. "Some are attending college, some on scholarship."

Gabriel Aluond, 22, was one of those Lost Boys brought to Richmond in 2000. He is attending Virginia Commonwealth University full-time as a biology major and works part-time at the Stony Point Ukrops near his apartment. His friend Aware Bul, another refugee, also 22, is in the painting and printmaking department at VCU, and wants to eventually go into filmmaking. Our packaged food was the strangest thing Aluond had to get used to, he says. But the hardest part of his experience, he says, is that he is not free to take on his own life and work only for himself, as his American-born counterparts are free to do. He is here, he says, also to work for those left behind. "We are still with them," he says. "Psychologically we are still with them."

Santino Chuor and Peter Dut, the two featured in "The Lost Boys," were over 18, and as the documentary shows, their experience was much different. The YMCA stuck with them for about four months, providing for their rent in a low-income housing development, helping them with job interviews and providing some life-adjustment training. After that they were left to their own devices.

Chuor took a job working the night shift at a factory. Dut wanted to get an education, but found out he was too old for high school, and needed that diploma to proceed to college. Lacking degrees, experience, and even friends, the two found themselves working dead-end manufacturing and service jobs, and otherwise cut off from society.

Mylan explains that some resettlement programs were better than others. "Houston was not one of the shining examples," she says. What her film shows is how important it can be for refugees to have interaction with members of the community where they live. We see visits by various organizations and churches, but few friendships develop. "Time is money" for Americans, Dut explains to some of his co-workers over lunch. This is what he's learned. He'd like to meet friends, girls, but they've had no time for him.

The cameras watch as the two do what they can to make it anyway. Chuor, a tall, gentle young man, takes on the role of a provider, doing the majority of the cleaning and breadwinning for the rest of the boys in his group. It's painful to see him make easily avoided mistakes: forgetting a receipt for the rent; flubbing his driving test; racking up fines for traffic offenses.

While Chuor works selflessly late into the night, Dut, who speaks numerous languages and is a Dinka musician, becomes frustrated with the kinds of jobs available, mostly in the manufacturing and service industries. He came here, he says, to become educated, not to push carts around the parking lot at Wal-Mart. "We are just working for nothing," he complains.

"I can't imagine going through what they did and doing so well," says Derek Redmond, chair of the international aid committee at the Richmond Chapter of the Old Dominion Bar Association, the minority bar in Richmond. The group is co-sponsoring the Aug. 18 event as a fund-raiser for Doctors Without Borders. That screening will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the VCU Commons Theater. Several speakers are planned, including director Mylan and Richmond-area Lost Boys.

Stories like Dut's and Chuor's, Redmond says, "help us realize we are part of an international community."

Director Mylan agrees. "We're so busy," she says, attempting to explain how Dut's high-school guidance counselor could be surprised at one point during her film to learn of Dut's background — months after meeting with him while a camera crew hovered nearby.

The government funds agencies like the YMCA and CCC. They are our agencies and they have a limited mandate, Mylan says. After watching "The Lost Boys," it's evident we could do better. S

"The Lost Boys of Sudan" screens Aug. 17, 6:30 p.m., with a reception at 6 p.m., at St. Michael's Catholic Church. Free. Call 285-5900.

There will be another screening Aug. 18, 6:30 p.m., at the VCU Commons Theater. A $10-$35 donation is requested to benefit Doctors Without Borders. Call 343-4388.

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