AboutJohn Hero


As one of the 27,000 “Lost Boys of Sudan”, John Dau has experienced challenges that most people could never imagine.

John was born in January 1974 in Duk Payuel, a prosperous village located in what was then the southern part of Sudan. In 1983, the northern Arab government attacked the ethnic minority in southern Sudan, setting off the Second Sudanese Civil War. John’s village first became a destination for refugees – and then fell under attack one night in August 1987 by the northern Arab government.

John fled the village and became separated from his family, encountering Arab militias which beat him and his neighbor Abraham. Naked, wounded and starving, John spent weeks avoiding armed gangs and wild animals in his search for safety, ultimately reaching the town of Pibor Post.

Now hundreds of miles from home, he joined a larger refugee group trapped in territory controlled by a hostile tribe, which murdered one of the three adults in his group. As the dry season progressed, food sources disappeared and riverbeds dried up from the intense heat.

By November, they reached “friendly” territory and settled in a refugee camp called Pinyudu in Ethiopia. John was selected to lead a group of 200 boys in the camp, which soon became afflicted by cholera, measles, chicken pox and whooping cough.

After four years at the camp, John’s group was forced to flee again under threat of attack from locals. 27,000 boys marched in the direction of Sudan and the Gilo River, when they were suddenly attacked by Ethiopian rebels. Though 18,000 boys managed to cross back into Sudan, 9,000 of them were killed at the Gilo River.

John led the survivors to the town of Pochala in Sudan. When, nine months later, the Sudanese government began bombing the town, John led a group of 1,200 boys in search of safer territory. Again, the boys suffered from thirst, hunger and constant attacks from hostile military forces. 800 survived the six-month trek to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.

At Kakuma, John Dau was finally safe. He spent the years from 1992 to 2001 in the camp, where he learned to read, write and speak English, and received a basic education. In 2000, he earned a prestigious Kenyan Certificate for Secondary Education. In 2001, Dau was selected to emigrate to the United States and settled in Syracuse, New York.

Following his initial culture shock, John Dau regularly worked 60 hours a week at two or three jobs, ultimately earning an Associate’s and Bachelor's Degree from Syracuse University. 

He was the subject of the film God Grew Tired of Us, which won several awards at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.

Today, John Dau is the president of both the John Dau Foundation (JDF) and the South Sudan Institute (SSI). He is an influential part of many efforts to bring hope and peace to the people of South Sudan, founding four nonprofits. With help from American volunteers, John has raised over $3 million to build and run the Duk Lost Boys Clinic in his village of Duk Payuel.

As a human rights activist for the people of South Sudan, John has lived a remarkable life of cultural adaptation in America. He has received many prestigious awards (including the National Geographic Emerging Explorers Award) and was a Volvo for Life finalist in the Quality of Life category, which brought a financial contribution from Volvo to the John Dau Foundation. John was also named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader for 2008; he also received a Most Caring Award from the Caring Institute in addition to other 38 awards.

John Dau’s life provides the ultimate example of a profile in courage. He is a natural leader who exemplifies true resilience and perseverance under the most horrific of circumstances. 


​"I think people refuse to try things because they fear failure. There have been many impossible situations in my life, but I keep trying. My family in Sudan thought I was dead and I feared they were dead, but 20 years later we were reunited. You can't give up."
- John Dau

John as a Speaker

johndauJohn Dau is a compelling motivational speaker whose life is defined by his uncompromised commitment to having a lasting impact on the future of his native country.

John speaks on the plight of those living in South Sudan and on his own personal story. He has become a successful keynote speaker in the United States, Canada and abroad. He presents his story in a way that displays the violence and devastation delivered against the people of South Sudan by the Sudanese government and emphasizes the importance of perseverance and character development.

John speaks on a variety of topics at corporate events, churches and colleges. These themes include Journey to Leadership, Between Two Worlds, and Foreign Policy and Bloodshed in Sudan.

If you are interested in having John speak at your event, please contact us.

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