“Hi, everyone!” he said cheerily when the applause died down.
“Hi,” 600 or so voices echoed.
“Can you hear me?”
“Can you see me?”
The audience broke into laughter, and Benson Deng was instantly at home. The Sudan native, who fled his country in the late 1980s and endured years on the road without parents or a steady food supply, has spoken about his experiences numerous times since the 2005 publication of “They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky,” which he wrote with his brother and cousin.
On March 11, Deng and cousin Benjamin Ajak visited Huntington Beach High School to talk to students about the book, which the HB Reads program selected as its title for this year. For the last month and a half, the committee had screened documentaries, held book and craft fairs and hosted African story times for kids. Now it was the last day of the program, and readers got to meet the Lost Boys up close.
For that matter, the Lost Boys got to meet the readers. By the time Deng and Ajak walked into the gym, tables were decked with students’ posters depicting scenes from “They Poured Fire” and Orange County for Darfur and the school’s Operation Save Darfur Club had set up booths along the wall. Students from half a dozen schools, having gotten out of third period, waited with copies of the book to be signed.
Saskia Mooy, a junior who sat two rows back, said reading the Lost Boys’ account had opened her eyes to the privileges of living in Surf City.
“I was a little shocked at what was happening,” she said. “I really took it in. I thought, I need to appreciate more what I have.”
Judy Bernstein, the author of the book’s foreword and afterword, introduced Deng and Ajak to the crowd. The San Diego resident first met the Lost Boys a decade ago as a volunteer for the International Rescue Committee, expecting, as she often puts it, to be a “big sister” for them temporarily.