Muirlands class hears plight of young refugees


Muirlands Middle School alumna Judy Bernstein discussed with eighth-grade students on Jan. 5, a book she helped author with three Sudanese “Lost Boys,” which depicts the agony and struggle they endured.

“They Poured Fire On Us From the Sky,” is the account by these boys of an unimaginable journey they made while fleeing Sudan’s civil war. The boys endured hunger and strength-sapping illnesses — dysentery, malaria and yellow fever. They dodged life-threatening predators — lions, snakes, crocodiles and soldiers, eventually resettling in San Diego.

After the discussion, the students were treated to a surprise musical performance by 16-year-old Rodi Youssef, a recent Syrian refugee.

Bernstein, spoke of how prior to 1987, the boys had a peaceful life in Sudan. When oil was discovered and Sudanese families were displaced from their homes at gunpoint because the land was so valuable, Sudan’s civil war began. Families’ lives were destroyed, parents were killed, daughters were sold into slavery and the young boys, left alone, had no choice but to flee.

With little more than the clothes on their backs, if that, they traveled throughout Sudan in search of refuge. Their journey led them first, to Ethiopia, and then back into Sudan, toward Kenya. They walked nearly 1,000 miles, sustained only by the sheer will to live.

Activist/author Bernstein, who is chair of the advisory committee of the San Diego International Rescue Committee and co-founder of the IRC Lost Boys Education Fund, shared that when this was occurring in Sudan, she was completely unaware of these atrocities because there were no journalists in the region, no cell phones, and no way for the Sudanese to share their stories.

Bernstein told students that they possess three powers to help prevent similar atrocities from occurring in the future: 1) education 2) technology and access to information, and 3) the ability to make informed purchasing decisions.

Muirlands eighth-grade English teacher Nicole Ervin-Fugiel explained the project’s genesis. “When BOOKSHELF (a Muirlands Foundation fund that provides Muirlands classrooms with books from every genre and launched in 2014 by a parent) generously offered to arrange for an author to speak to our students, I felt the talk would be relevant to our current civil rights curriculum,” she said. “This book about three young refugees who settled in San Diego fit the bill perfectly. Plus, this topic is especially significant with the current influx of refugees into Europe and the United States.”

In connection with the event, Muirlands students collected more than 300 new and used books to donate to the International Rescue Committee, which settled many of the Lost Boys. The donated books will be delivered to refugee students throughout San Diego.

If you are interested in donating books: Contact Celeste Trudeau at or call (858) 337-3162.