As one of the thousands of “lost boys of Sudan,” Mawut Mayen remembers eating mud, hiding from death squads and watching a friend die under an acacia tree after civil war invaded his life, destroyed his village and sent him on an extraordinary exodus from his war-torn homeland.

On Saturday, more than two decades later and half the world away, he will watch with equal measures of hope and trepidation as his homeland formally declares its independence from the north, becoming the Republic of South Sudan.

“There’s so much uncertainty and insecurity,” said Mayen, now 26, living in the United States and working as an industrial engineer for Boeing. “My people have lived with war all their lives. Let South Sudan be free. It’s time to end the suffering.”

Despite the pride and hopefulness that Sudanese refugees like Mayen feel as South Sudan becomes the world’s newest country, they also recognize the tremendous challenges that lay ahead.

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