NAIROBI, Kenya, March 9 (UNHCR) – Hollywood actor and model Ger Duany, one of the thousands of orphaned or separated Lost Boys forced to flee Sudan during the 1983-2005 civil war, on Monday was named as a high profile supporter of the UN refugee agency at a film screening in Nairobi.
"I am honoured to be recognized as a supporter of the refugee cause. I also feel a heavy burden of personal responsibility," said the 36-year-old Duany in a message. Now a United States citizen, he was in the Kenyan capital to present and talk about "The Good Lie," a based-on-truth drama about Lost Boys resettled in the US.
Duany plays one of the boys in the film, mirroring his own experience in many ways. He was separated from his family and recruited as a child soldier before becoming a refugee in Ethiopia and Kenya then being resettled to the United States. He made his debut as an actor in the 2004 film, "I ♥ Huckabees" and is a role model for many.
He remains concerned about his homeland and efforts under way to restore peace and stability in South Sudan, which became independent in January 2011 but has been plagued by chaos and conflict between government forces and rebel fighters since December 2013. Some of his relatives have sought shelter in Ethiopia and Kenya to escape the latest fighting.
In his message released on Monday, Duany said that becoming a UNHCR High Profile Supporter "is a unique opportunity. My journey has come full circle in many ways." He reflected on the fresh problems in South Sudan.
"During the last 14 months, my country, South Sudan, has seen the displacement of more than 2 million people. Less than four years ago, we experienced the euphoria of independence. I went home to vote in the referendum that led to independence. Never in our worst dreams could we have imagined that our homeland would descend into civil war so quickly; that the nightmares of our childhood would return to hound another generation."
Duany said that at the weekend, on International Mother's Day (March 8), he had thought about the renewed suffering of women and girls. "I thought of the women of South Sudan who are living and reliving the adversity of displacement, crowded in UN bases or scattered in rural areas, and in refugee camps in neighbouring countries. Like refugee and internally displaced women around the world, they are the caregivers who protect the offspring as best they can when their world explodes in warfare."
He added that he had "known their pain through my mother, and my sisters, and the women of South Sudan at large. It is the pain of losing loved ones, of not knowing where they are or whether they are alive. That pain came back to haunt the nation of South Sudan when war broke out in December 2013."
Duany, reflecting on his past, said he had gone from an "idyllic" early life in a South Sudan village to child soldier during the devastating north-south war, refugee, actor, international model and US-based peace activist. "I could not read or write in English when I arrived in the United States at age 16. Yet, I persevered and went on to complete a college education."
He considered himself fortunate. "There were so many moments along my journey when I could have perished, as so many of our people did. It breaks my heart that today kids from my country [South Sudan] are experiencing the nightmare of killing, destruction and mayhem – while elsewhere children of their age go to school.
"Can one ever count the human cost, the lost opportunity for these generations? As for our mothers and sisters, pillars of resilience, must they really have to carry the burden of uncertainty that displacement imposes?" he asked.
As a high profile supporter for UNHCR, Duany joins an influential group of celebrity backers, headed by UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, who spread awareness and boost support for UNHCR around the world. "I will share my life's journey of hope and the ability to overcome adversity. The importance of the task is not lost on me," he stressed, adding: "It is my humble obligation to take up the mantle."
Duany said his "journey" with UNHCR had begun when he was a small boy in Itang refugee camp in Ethiopia. "I was brought to Dadaab [in Kenya] by UNHCR and resettled from there to the United States 22 years ago," he noted. And last year, UNHCR reunited him with his mother and 14 other family members in Kenya's Kakuma camp. He also visited Gambella in western Ethiopia, "where I saw refugees streaming across the border. I heard horrendous stories of their experiences in flight. It was heartbreaking, and it sealed my resolve to become a voice for refugees."