Steve Reifenberg '81 | August 20, 2015
It wasn’t until 2005, when Majak Anyieth was about 12 or 13 years old, that he realized he needed to have a birth date.
His father, a soldier, had been killed in Sudan’s Civil War when Majak was young. His mother, a poor farmer with five children, never learned to read or write. As a boy, Majak would walk barefoot for an hour from his village to a school in the Jonglei state in southeastern Sudan. Primary school was taught under a tree, and the children shared the school’s few tattered books. Sometimes Majak couldn’t go to school because he needed to tend the family’s goats. He once missed a year of school because of a broken arm that didn’t heal properly.
Through a cousin, Majak learned about the Kakuma Refugee Camp, one of the largest in Africa, run by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Located in the semi-arid desert of northwestern Kenya, Kakuma serves some 200,000 people fleeing wars and violence in neighboring Sudan and Somalia. Life in Kakuma is enormously challenging. Dust storms are frequent. Malnutrition, cholera and malaria are endemic. Venomous spiders, snakes and scorpions abound, and daytime temperatures often exceed 100 degrees.