Why you know him: John Dau, who spent the first 12 years of his life in an African village, is a scholar-in-residence at Collegiate School in Henrico County.
Granted political asylum in the United States in 2001, he arrived here with a group of 140 refugees assigned to live in the Syracuse, N.Y., area, where they were introduced to such strange concepts as electricity and spigots where hot and cold water flowed together.
He had been driven from his home in South Sudan in 1987 when his village was attacked in the middle of the night by northern Sudanese soldiers. He spent the next three months traveling by foot to a refugee camp in Ethiopia.
A Lost Boy of Sudan, he was one of four in a group of 27 people who survived the journey, and he was among thousands of children who spent years in refugee camps to escape political and religious warfare in Sudan.
Dau worked multiple jobs here to create a new life. Not knowing whether his parents were dead or alive for 17 years, he reunited with them in 2004. He also reconnected with a Lost Girl of Sudan, one of the few hundred girls accepted over the years for immigration. Martha Arual Akech, who would become his wife, had been assigned to live in Seattle in 2000.
Dau worked his way through college, earning a bachelor of arts degree in public policy from Syracuse University in 2011.
Four years earlier, with the help of First Presbyterian Church of Skaneateles in Skaneateles, N.Y., he had started the John Dau Foundation, which builds clinics and brings medical supplies and personnel to South Sudan. The foundation runs 12 medical and nutrition centers.
Dau and his family moved to Chesterfield County in late 2016, where the father of five children, author of three books and genocide survivor teaches responsible citizenship and such values as honesty, respect and hard work through African folktales.
“It’s a blessing to do what you love with so much freedom,” he said.
What’s new: Dau is on a new mission. This time he wants to let the world know about atrocities that are still occurring in South Sudan and to call on the Sudan government or the United Nations to provide security to the landlocked county in northeastern Africa that gained its independence from Sudan in 2011.
Dau, who travels every year to his village in South Sudan, went in November to say goodbye to his father, who died a few days after he arrived. He spent nearly a month there.
“But that is not the reason I’m writing you,” he said in a Dec. 7 email. “My village was attacked and devastated by criminals (reportedly) from the Murle tribe who killed 44 people, including three employees with the John Dau Foundation.”
The tribesmen killed old women, took young women and abducted 60 children, Dau said. Another 19 people were wounded, including four foundation staff members, Dau said.
“Murle tribesmen abduct children and sell them to other Murle,” Dau said. Murle is a tribe in South Sudan known for its violence against neighboring tribes, including Dau’s Dinka tribe.
“I thought the world should know about this terrorist group,” Dau said. “When you destroy the family, you destroy the foundation of humanity.”
Murle tribesmen sell captured women and children in exchange for cows, Dau said. A baby is worth 15 cows; children 2, 3 and 4 years of age are worth more cows, he said. Or they will use a body as bait for a leopard, which they will skin and use as a dowry.
Dau’s village and a clinic in the village were attacked in the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 28. Dau was not there. He had left the area the previous day.
The same people who helped him bury his father were among those killed, he said. Many were relatives, and victims included 17 children as young as age 1.
“The Murle are worse terrorists than al-Qaida or ISIS,” said Dau, referring to Islamic extremist groups. “They should be designated as terrorists.”
Peaceful neighboring tribes and medical clinics need government protections, he said. “We need to get the government of South Sudan to help mobilize the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan or to send in troops or law enforcement.”
The foundation will prevail, but it needs help, he said. “We’re not giving up. We are moving on. All we need is support.”
Through the foundation, 215,000 people have been fed, 12,000 children vaccinated and 600 people blinded by cataracts have had their sight restored.