Eric's Heroes: A 'lost boy' and two lives intertwined

One boy, Daniel Mayen, and one man, Mawut, have ties that bind them together forever. (KOMO News)

What these eyes have seen, no boy should ever have to see.

What hunger his belly has known, the lowest animal should never have to endure.

Daniel Mayen will not, and cannot, forget what it was like when he was lost.


This man's name is Mawut. He lives in Everett and his life is full and busy with a wife named Grace, three children and their nephew who lives with them.

He has a particular interest in Daniel's story. It has touched him, and changed him.


There were 12,000 of them walking through the deserts of war-ravaged Africa, their parents either dead or missing.

They were refugees from the war in Sudan between North and South, Muslims and Christians.

They were called, "The lost boys of Sudan." Theirs was an exodus of biblical proportions.

When he can, Mawut sends money to South Sudan so that more children don't have to go through what Daniel went through.

"It's difficult to block it out, to be honest with you," Mawut said.

At Lynnwood High School, Dnaiel is on the track team and works hard and tries to fit in.

"They (students) ask me if I saw the dead bodies, and I told them I saw thousands of them, not only one," Daniel said.

Mawut is haunted by Daniel's story. He can't escape it.

He is also from South Sudan and also a member of the Dinka tribe.

"I believe where I am right now is an incredible piece of life compared to what it could have been if I were still back over there," Mawut said.

As he tends to his work, he thinks about Daniel.

"And when the war came, it came in the middle of the night, you know," Daniel said. "And they came shooting us, they don't care...they just shoot at everybody."

A thousand children were murdered in their sleep, another thousand lost boys drowned trying to escape across the Gilo River.

Finally, they reached a United Nations camp in a placed called Kakuma.

"You have to go like three days without eating anything...maybe you're going to eat today, then you three days, then you eat another day so you can go on," Daniel said.

For 15 days, Daniel would only have one cup of corn.

Look at Daniel's face, look at the eyes. The markings. Look at Mawut. They are, you see, the same person.

Mawut is Daniel Mayen.

"It is absolutely two completely different lives," Mawut said.

KOMO News aired this story about Mawut 18 years ago when he went by "Daniel" because he wanted to assimilate.

We wanted to come back and meet him again, to see what had become of the lost boy.

After Lynnwood High, he went to Seattle Pacific University and studied hard and kept going.

He got his Masters in engineering from Washington State University.

He then went back to Sudan where he met Grace and brought her back here where they married.

To call it a dream come true would be inaccurate, even naive.

Children have dreams, but Mawut Mayen never had the luxury of being a child.

"I would say I had...I had no dream when I was in a refugee camp...and I'm just being honest about that...," Mawut said. "Because how can you have a dream when you barely don't have any food to eat? How do you dream about doing something important in your life?"

"I knew only one thing, that I would take advantage of any opportunity that I get," he said.

Eighteen years ago, when we talked, I asked him about winning a lottery and being saved.

"I never saw America before, but when I was still in the camp, I just thought that America is real beautiful because when I found everything it said, 'Made in America, Made in America', and I said, 'I want to go where people made all these things."

And isn't life funny? Now he is one of the people making all these things, big things, like Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

Mawut was recently promoted to senior manager at Boeing.

"My current job is to lead, facilitate and collaborate with leadership teams," Mawut said. "To build this airplane on time, get all the parts here, built it on time...and roll it out of this factor. That's what I do on a daily basis."

When the people at Boeing had a centennial celebration, and they were looking for someone to inspire the workers, they asked Mawut to stand up and talk about his journey.

"I'm one of the lost boys of Sudan. I grew up admist civil war. I walked miles after miles, looking for safety," he said.

Mawut relfected on Don and Lynn Harding, who took him in and gave him a home.

And he talked about whta it was like when he had nothing in this world except desire.

"I went to school when I could, I learned English when I could. That paved the way for me," Mawut said.

What these eyes have seen, nobody should ever have to see.

But Mawut Mayen has also seen happiness, and he has found purpose and dignity.

Mawut said he thinks about it all the time.

"I think's all about my family right now. They're not going to go through what I went through. They will have a better life, so the priority for me is to try to provide for them."

His children will never know hunger. Their hearts will never know terror.

Their father, Mawut Mayen, a boy who was lost and then found, has seen enough for all of them.

"I hope they will learn from what I have gone through. It's a history that will not go away. They will take that and improve their life with that story," Mawut said.

Editor's Note: "Eric's Heroes" is a weekly series airing every Wednesday on KOMO News in the 6 p.m. newscast. If you have a good story about a good person doing good things for the right reasons, share it with Eric by sending an email to

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