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When Emmanuel was 8 years old, civil war broke out in his home country of Sudan. When his village was invaded and soldiers burned his home, Emmanuel escaped into the forest. All alone, Emmanuel hid for 13 days, surviving on wild fruits and stagnant rainwater. Fleeing the rebel soldiers, he joined 26,000 other desperate children—now known as the "lost boys." These children wandered for three months, walking 1,000 miles across the desert in search of safety.

Eventually, Emmanuel found his way to a refugee camp in Kenya, but suffered from nightmares of what he'd seen. "I'd seen friends shot right on the spot, friends being eaten by lions and hyenas," he says.

Then, in 1998, Emmanuel met a girl named Veronica in the Kenyan camp. "I was captivated and all I wanted to do is just stand there and just watch," he says. Emmanuel only spoke with Veronica for a moment before asking a man with a camera, who happened to be nearby, to take their picture. (Above: Veronica is second from left. Emmanuel is on the far right.) To Emmanuel's joy, the photographer actually returned to the camp and gave him the picture for free.

"Something inside of me just kept telling me, you better keep this picture. You better keep it. Keep it well." For the next six years, Emmanuel carried that photograph for thousands of miles.
FROM: Valentine's Day Love Stories
Published on February 14, 2007