By Alicia Constant, originally published in PHC Herald, 11/05/10
Patrick Henry College
Seven-year-old Piol stood in the crowded Sudanese marketplace, watching the smoke of his burning village billow on the horizon.
Then, he began to hear the screams, the shots. Confusion erupted around him. Armed Arab militiamen surrounded him and fired randomly into the crowd.
“I heard people shouting for help and seeking an exit, with no exit... I saw blood run like water,” he recalled. “People looked like they were lying down, but they were dead bodies.”
The men were killed; the surviving women and children were tied to donkeys and dragged off as slaves. The 15-year-old girl who had come with him to the market cried out as a man dragged Piol away.
“She called to me, ‘Piol, where are you going? Your mother told me to bring you home!’”
That day, Francis Piol Bol Bok’s captivity began. Bok worked 10 years for the people who killed his parents and two sisters. At seven yeae was the first person awake in the morning and the last person asleep at night. He was beaten, abused, and treated as less than human. He tried to escape twice and failed. The third time, he reached freedom and finally found a way to America.
Yet the scars of his past fueled a passion to return and help his people.
“Those that are still living in South Sudan, we share the same dream,” he said. “I used to lie there every night and wonder who would come and free me.”
On Thursday, Nov. 4, Bok spoke to over 115 PHC students who crowded into the Barbara Hodel Center coffeehouse. His lecture, entitled “Political Self- Determination and Economic Freedom: Reflections on Modern Slavery,” interwove two stories: his personal escape from slavery and the brewing political tensions between Northern and Southern Sudan. Bok, 31, has shared his story with anyone who will listen, from college students to world leaders such as President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Madeline Albright.
“So many times, we’ve heard the statistics,” said Natasha Malik, president of the PHC’s IJM chapter. “But it’s different to actually meet someone who has been one of those statistics. [Mr. Bok] puts a face to slavery.”
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, PHC’s International Justice Mission (IJM) Chapter, and the Alexis de Tocqueville Society co-hosted the event.
While Northern Sudan is populated by Muslim Arabs, Southern Sudan is mostly populated by Christian and Animist African natives. Since the British government granted Sudan independence in 1956, the country has been torn apart by civil war, Northern agression, genocide and human trafficking. The economic contrast between the North and South is stark.
“Sudan is the one country where you can go through the whole south without seeing a single [electric] light,” Bok said. “There are no roads, no bridges, no clean water.” Yet, he said, cities in Northern Sudan are comparable to any modern city in the West.
Politicians in the U.S. and U.N. have tried to patch the country together through a series of peace treaties. In 2005, Bok met with President Bush for the signing of the Compact Peace Agreement between North and South.
As part of the CPA, the Northern Sudanese government agreed to allow a fair, democratic vote on a referendum allowing southern secession.
If the vote, scheduled for Jan. 9, 2011, favors secession, the southern government has until Jul. 9, to form an independent government. But Bok anticipates another violent struggle.
“You have 67 days to save the life of my people,” he said, urging Americans to keep Sudan accountable. “We’ve got to speak up. We’ve got to acknowledge that slavery still exists. And if it still exists, we have to lobby our government to stop it.... There should be justice for those who enslave other human beings.”
Bok currently is the second person responsible for registering Southern Sudanes citizens who will vote absentee.
Bok urged students to attend a rally in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 9, to support the independence of Southern Sudan. “I want my country to look like America someday,” Bok said. “Freedom is something nobody -- no person, no government -- can deny for you. But what is the good of your freedom if you don’t use it to help others who don’t have it?”