Bol Aweng and Jok Dau were just children when their homeland of southern Sudan descended into chaos and violence.
Hungry, half-naked, and hunted by both soldiers and wild animals, the two six-year-old boys trekked 1,500 miles on bare feet to the relative safety of a squalid refugee camp in Kenya.
More than 36,000 Sudanese children made the harrowing journey; only 16,000, including Aweng and Dau, survived. They came to be known as the Lost Boys of Sudan.
The word "lost" no longer describes Aweng and Dau. Now, the two are U.S. citizens and Ohio State alumni, living in Columbus and working with fellow Buckeyes to save Sudanese children's lives through the Buckeye Clinic they founded in their home village of Piol.
Says Aweng: "My life has been a journey of hope."
As adults seeking opportunity, Aweng and Dau came to the United States. They met Patti and Peter Confar, Buckeye alumni who were inspired by the Lost Boys' story and commitment to education. The Confars encouraged Aweng and Dau to consider Ohio State--and helped them navigate life in Columbus, admission to Ohio State, and the financial aid process.
In December 2009, the Lost Boys received college diplomas--Aweng in digital art and Dau in international relations. As Aweng and Dau sat in the Schottenstein Center in their caps and gowns, President E. Gordon Gee told the crowd: "I am honored, moved, and humbled that these two remarkable boys found their way to Ohio State."
As alumni, Aweng and Dau wanted to give back. They worked with alumni like Steve Walker, a 1967 grad and the former director of the Ohio Refugee Services Program--and in 2011, the Buckeye Clinic opened its doors. Aweng and Dau have led an effort to raise more than $190,000 for the clinic, which focuses on prenatal care, safe childbirth, and vaccinations for potentially deadly diseases such as measles and polio.
When they visit the site, Aweng and Dau bring Ohio State t-shirts and necklaces, and they tell villagers about the strength of the Buckeye.
"Jok and Bol's positive outlook on life, in spite of the numerous challenges they have faced, is an inspiration to me," Walker says. "The Buckeye Clinic is a symbol of hope for the people in their village, and a sign that others in the world care about them."