Please Support The Writing Show!

Writing to Heal
RSS Link

With Judy A. Bernstein, co-author of They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan

Clockwise, from top left: Benjamin Ajak and Judy A. Bernstein; Benjamin Ajak; Alephonsion Deng; Benson Deng


Benjamin Ajak, Benson Deng, and Alephonsion Deng were all under the age of seven when they were driven from a war-ravaged country. In this deceptively understated memoir, the three boys recall in their own words their harrowing journey to safety.

Benjamin, Alepho, and Benson were raised among the Dinka tribe of Sudan. Their world was an insulated, close-knit community of grass-roofed cottages, cattle herders, and tribal councils. The lions and pythons that prowled beyond the village fences were the greatest threat they knew.

All that changed the night the government-armed Murahiliin began attacking their villages. Amid the chaos, screams, conflagration, and gunfire, five-year-old Benson and seven-year-old Benjamin fled into the dark night. Two years later, Alepho, age seven, was forced to do the same. Across the Southern Sudan, over the next five years, thousands of other boys did likewise, joining this stream of child refugees that became known as the Lost Boys. Their journey would take them over one thousand miles across a war-ravaged country, through landmine-sown paths, crocodile-infested waters, and grotesque extremes of hunger, thirst, and disease. The refugee camps they eventually filtered through offered little respite from the brutality they were fleeing.

In They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky, Alepho, Benson, and Benjamin, by turn, recount their experiences along this unthinkable journey. They vividly recall the family, friends, and tribal world they left far behind them and their desperate efforts to keep track of one another. This is a captivating memoir of Sudan and a powerful portrait of war as seen through the eyes of children. And it is, in the end, an inspiring and unforgettable tribute to the tenacity of even the youngest human spirits.

The three boys were relocated from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to the United States in 2001 as part of an international refugee relief program. Now all in their mid-twenties, Benjamin, Benson, and Alephonsion live in San Diego, California.

Judy A. Bernstein is Student Advisor for the Community Economic Development Department at San Diego State University, Chair of the Advisory Committee of the San Diego International Rescue Committee, and co-founder of the IRC Lost Boys Education Fund.

In her capacity as an IRC mentor in 2001, she met Alephonsion, Benson, and Benjamin. Awed and deeply touched by their tragic childhoods, epic journey, and heroic survival, she encouraged them to write about their lives. As their stories unfolded, she began to see that their writing might help them get an education and a foothold in their newly adopted country. That dream began to come true when Joni Evans, Vice President of the William Morris Agency, agreed to represent them. Soon Clive Priddle at Public Affairs recognized the possibility for a book and took it to fruition.

Judy now spends her time speaking to community groups and schools with her co-authors. She also writes articles and books, continues her volunteer activities, and enjoys time with her husband, Paul, and son, Cliff.

Please join Judy and host Paula B. as they ponder:

  • How the three learned to write so well
  • How much editing was involved
  • How Judy integrated their disparate stories
  • How writing the book affected all of them
  • What's next for Benjamin, Alepho, Benson, and Judy.

Interviewee: Judy A. Bernstein
Host: Paula Berinstein
Date: May 4, 2008
Running time: 58:12
File size: 28 megabytes
Rating: Violence
The They Poured Fire Web site:

Purchase They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky at