As one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, Manyang ‘Andrew’ Mayiik of Chelsea has made numerous incredible journeys in his lifetime.
Some have been dangerous – fleeing quickly to avoid murderous government forces.
Some were nearly impossible, involving a trek of thousands of miles on foot across the African bush.
Some journeys have been exciting, such as heading to the TD Garden to be recognized by the Boston Celtics several years ago.
Some journeys have been new, like when he and several other young men (Lost Boys) from Sudan resettled in Chelsea about 10 years ago.
But the most recent and most joyful journey for Mayiik has been his quest for U.S. Citizenship. That quest has been complicated by timing and sickness. However, with extreme determination and help from residents and staff at the Chelsea Jewish Nursing Home (CJNH) on Lafayette Avenue, Mayiik successfully completed his citizenship journey on May 7th, celebrating the accomplishment with the entire home this Tuesday.
“You did it Manyang,” said one resident who called herself Lady Ga Ga, while giving him the double thumbs up sign. “This is great.”
As Jim Honohan and Jack Zimmerman of the Activities Committee sang the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ ‘God Bless America,’ and led everyone in the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ on Tuesday afternoon, Mayiik said he was thankful to have reached his goal.
“I am very happy,” said Mayiik. “It is a joy, just as happy as in January 2011 when we (southern Sudan) got our independence. I am an American now. I have to thank everyone here, and the interviewer from the government. He was a good guy too. Everyone was very helpful. All the people here were so happy for me. They really do love me.”
Administrators of the home indicated that Mayiik came to CJNH in 2011 after learning that he had a rare form of spinal cancer. After learning of the debilitating condition, Mayiik chose hospice care from the Dr. Matthew Schwartz Hospice at CJNH – with his hospice social worker being Laci Gentry.
Despite that setback, Mayiik told everyone that he wanted to continue his quest for citizenship – which he was already working on.
When his eyesight began to decline, the CJNH community rallied to help him read and answer test questions orally.
When his right arm started to fail him, making writing difficult, again staff and residents rallied around him to help.
In fact, administrators said his positive attitude became infectious and motivated the entire facility.
By his test date on May 7th, everyone was cheering for him to pass, which he did.
At the celebration, Administrator Phil Sher said they have marveled at Mayiik’s positive attitude not only thorugh his illness, but also through his previous experiences in the Sudan.
“I have known Manyang for a number of months now and I’ve been astounded by his attitude towards life,” said Sher. “Based on his experiences and those that the Lost Boys of Sudan have had, this is inspiring. I’ve heard stories that on a moment’s notice, whole villages had to literally pick up and run for their lives. Literally run away within minutes. A lot of them didn’t make it. They were killed. He survived and he is so happy despite everything. He definitely inspires me and the entire facility.”
Mayiik told the Record he left the Sudan nine years ago and was sponsored by the United Nations as a refugee.
He came straight to Chelsea at the age of 21, along with a number of the other Lost Boys – all of whom still stay in contact and many of whom were present for Mayiik’s celebration on Tuesday.
While many of the Lost Boys pursued an education, Mayiik set off to work, landing a job at the Hilton Hotel in Boston. An avid basketball fan, he follows the Celtics and knows everything about former Sudanese player Manute Bol.
“I would love to have the Celtics come here,” he said. “I met them once and would love to see them again.”
The Lost Boys was a term given to orphan boys from Southern Sudan by aid workers in African refugee camps. Their story began during the second civil war in Sudan, which spanned from 1983 to 2005. The bloody war featured inhumane attacks by the Sudanese government on Christian villages in the southern region, populated mostly by the Denka Tribe. More than 2 million were estimated to have been killed during the war.
However, some 20,000 young men who had fled from their villages or were away from the village tending to cattle survived the slaughter. Many of them fled thousands of miles on foot from Southern Sudan to Ethiopia, while others found refuge at camps in other far-flung African countries.
In the late 1990s, the U.S. sponsored a relocation program for the Lost Boys in America, and a foundation paid for their schooling once they arrived. The first Lost Boys arrived in 38 American cities around 2000, with the largest number residing in Omaha. However, numerous Lost Boys also located in Chelsea – and like Mayiik – still reside here.
“When I was in Africa, there was a lot of fighting and the government killed people too,” said Mayiik. “When we got here, we started over, but those at home kept fighting for their freedom. The happiest day was January 2011 when they became independent. We were happy here too. Now, I am an American citizen and my home is free too. I am happy.”
Judging from the response at the CJNH, that happiness is spreading rapidly.