Reviewed by Alana DeJoseph (Mali 1992–94)
The book Lost Girl Found begins with a scene of two southern Sudanese girls, Poni and her friend Nadai, eating mangos. It is the time before the second Sudanese Civil War has reached the town of Chukudum in what is now the country of South Sudan. For all of us Peace Corps volunteers who served in a country that had mango trees, I don’t need to explain the visceral memories the words mango season conjure up. For those who have not had the experience, let it suffice to say that mango season is as close to Candy Land as one can get. And with this first scene in the book Leah Bassoff and Laura DeLuca had me instantly hooked.
Although Lost Girl Found is essentially directed at the young adult reader, I, who am a bit past what I might define as a “young adult,” found myself riveted to Poni’s story.
Much has been written about Sudan’s Lost Boys. Yet there is concerningly little information on the young girls whose suffering in the ongoing conflict has become an afterthought, if thought of at all.
Through Poni’s eyes we learn about the horrors of child marriage and pregnancy, the terror of war, and the unthinkable hardships of life in a refugee camp. However, we also get to partake in the comforts of Poni’s friendships, her close relationship with her mother, her determination to attend school and study under the most challenging of circumstances, and her incredible resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
Leah Bassoff and Laura DeLuca capture brilliantly Poni’s voice as she matures from an innocent child to a strong, tenacious young woman. The story left me wanting for a sequel in which Poni grows into a more three-dimensional understanding of her new home. Through Poni’s experiences we gain a deeper understanding of the forces at work in a country struggling with inner strife, yet so full of rich history and culture.
The third goal of the Peace Corps is to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. Laura DeLuca (with Leah Bassoff) has truly “brought it home” by giving us a well-told story through which to understand an East African nation that is striving for peace.
All royalties from the sale of the book are donated to Africare.org, a charitable organization that works with local populations to improve the quality of life for people in Africa. Founded in 1970, Africare is the oldest and largest African-American led organization in the development field. Laura DeLuca is an anthropology lecturer at the University of Colorado in Boulder. She has lived and worked in East Africa on numerous occasions, including her time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, as a Fulbright scholar in Tanzania, as well as some time in South Sudan. DeLuca is striving to include more storytelling in her field of anthropology. She says: “A story can be a better way to learn about history and culture. I want to inspire people to learn more about South Sudan, and to do that it’s important to have a story driving things.”
Alana DeJoseph (Mali, 1992-94) has worked in video and film production for over 20 years. Since 2013, she has been developing “A Towering Task,” a comprehensive, in-depth documentary about the Peace Corps. (www.peacecorpsdocumentary.com)
Alana says: “In a time when the American public either has a very antiquated notion of Peace Corps, informed by an almost mythological awe of the 60s, or is not even aware that the agency still exists, it is high time to bring this unique organization back into the public discourse, to raise the level of the discussion from quaint to crucial.”