The journey home

Emma Dejong

Emma Dejong

After tending animals in the fields, a group of 5 to 15-year-old boys returned to their village in southern Sudan to see a cloud of smoke. Their village had been attacked, so they fled, traveling across the African deserts with nothing to eat but the leaves on trees. These boys are known today as the Lost Boys.

Moses Joknhial II, a second-year aviation major, was one of the 3,500 Lost Boys who later came to the United States. He was 9 years old when his village was attacked, but the memories are still vivid.

“People were dehydrating,” Joknhial said. “A lot of people were eaten by a lion or a hyena.”

Eighteen years later, a peace treaty was signed in Sudan to end the civil war, which made it safe for Joknhial to return. After earning a high school diploma, a degree in both electrical construction and aircraft mechanics and receiving his pilot’s license, Joknhial went back to Sudan in January of 2009.

“I met my family Jan. 3, 2009,” he said. “I’d been away for 22 years.”

When in Sudan, Joknhial began his project Rebuilding South Sudan through


Part of this project is building a school. Instead of attending school under the shade of a tree, the children in the region will receive their education in the shelter of a building with 12 rooms, each with the capacity of 50 students. As of now, only the foundation has been laid.

“On Dec. 28 this year, I’m going back,” Joknhial said. “The main thing is I’m going to finish up the project. I need to put the roof in.”

Rhonda Morse, who met Joknhial in her church in Sioux Falls, tutored him with her husband and they “consider him part of the family.” She now volunteers with Joknhial, working as the project coordinator.

“It was difficult to comprehend how a group of children would experience a life like what [the Lost Boys] had to experience,” Morse said. “[Returning to Sudan] is a wonderful commentary on [Joknhial’s] character.”

Morse and a group of four to six others will be joining Joknhial at the end of February. They will be doing a number of services, including holding teacher training workshops and providing basic health care education.

As well as building a school, Joknhial is making it his goal to improve the educational opportunities for females.

“The school will provide the girls the corn grinder, which will allow the girls to go to school,” Joknhial said.

It is the girls’ job to grind the grain for food. Doing this by hand takes hours and time is not often allotted for school. With a machine, the grinding will take minutes.

“When the females heard about the grinding mills, they just broke out in singing and dancing,” Morse said.

Another major issue is the need for water. Joknhial and other volunteers put in two wells with money donated by the Watertown community. However, Joknhial does not think there will be enough funding to drill another well, despite the immense necessity.

“Those two wells have served 22,000 in that village,” Joknhial said. “It’s too crowded. They start fighting for water.”

Funding for Joknhial’s project has come from churches, service groups and schools.

“The main thing I get money from is the children,” Joknhial said. “They go home and say, ‘Mom, I need a dollar for Moses.'”

Morse admires Joknhial for returning to Sudan and she is happy to be a part of his rebuilding project.

“To significantly affect thousands of people, we don’t often get that opportunity,” Morse said. “And to think, it’s actually saving lives.”

The feedback from the citizens has been nothing but incredibly thankful, said Morse.

“They told him that 2009 was a year that they will remember as hope for the future,” Morse said. “You can see it in peoples’ faces.”