Unlikely union helps “Lost Boy” give back

by Mike Lappan || AHL On The Beat Archive

James Lubo Mijak grew up in Southern Sudan, more than 2,000 miles from the nearest hockey rink.

Prior to Feb. 13, he had never been to a hockey game, nor seen one on TV.

But he had more reason to cheer on this day than any of the other 8,168 fans in attendance at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte. That’s because Mijak teamed up with the Checkers and Charlotte Latin School to raise more than $10,500 for his school-building project, “Raising Sudan.”

The idea for the fundraiser came from a faculty member at Charlotte Latin who attended last year’s “Hockey for Haiti” event, where the Checkers and Cannon School partnered to raise more than $9,600 for the victims of that country’s earthquake.

“It is great to see how so many unique groups are utilizing our fundraising program to do incredible things,” says Checkers COO Tera Black. “The people we get to meet have such unbelievable stories to tell and it has been a pleasure to see it all come to fruition.”

In this out-of-the-ordinary case, the Checkers and Charlotte Latin students used fundraising ticket sales and in-game donations to help Mijak get one step closer to his dream of building schools in his native village.

Mijak is one of the 30,000 “Lost Boys of Sudan” who were orphaned or displaced when their villages were attacked during the 21-year Second Sudanese Civil War.

He was eight years old when his parents and brother were killed by an enemy tribe. Mijak, along with others, fled his village and traveled along the Nile River by foot for months before finally reaching a refugee camp in neighboring Ethiopia.

Of the 30,000 Lost Boys, approximately 3,800 were granted special permission to immigrate to the United States in 2001.

“It was a difficult time, but we had one another,” he said. “I was lucky. I came to the United States of America.”

Mijak earned a bachelor’s degree from UNC Charlotte and now works in Charlotte. In 2007, he returned to his native village and learned that the residents are in dire need of schools. In Southern Sudan, two percent of boys and one percent of girls graduate from primary school. In some areas, 90 percent of adults are unable to read.

Each permanent school costs roughly $150,000 and is an anchor around which a village can develop and shift from a history of hardship to one of hope.

“I believe that from education comes wisdom, and from wisdom comes peace,” Mijak said. “I know that building schools is the most direct way to close the door on the past and create a new future.”

For Mijak, a return to Sudan is in the near future and he is appreciative of the efforts of the students of Charlotte Latin and the Checkers.

For Checkers staff members, helping raise more than $2 million for non-profit organizations since 2006 is a fun and satisfying element of their jobs.

“My job is both extraordinary and gratifying because of these types of events,” adds Black. “It is heartwarming to know that by virtue of the Checkers playing the great game of hockey, a Lost Boy from Sudan is now closer to building a permanent school in his homeland.”