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.
In 2001, Emmanuel came to America with only a shirt, a pair of pants, flip-flops, and what he called his "most important luggage"—his beloved picture of Veronica, which was tucked inside his Bible.
He started school and a new life in North Carolina, eventually enrolling at the University of North Carolina, where he is pre-med student with a double major in biology and psychology.
Emmanuel remained in close contact with his friends, who had been dispersed around the world. "It's the way the immigration works. They were sending people there [to] Canada, the U.S. and also Australia," he says. "The embassy would come and pick you randomly."
One Christmas, he traveled to visit friends in Canada. When he walked into a church, he was shocked by what he saw. "When I opened the door, looking into the aisle, I saw Veronica. I thought I was dreaming," he says. "I was jumping over the benches and I was running towards her because I recognized her face. We just ran into each other."
When Emmanuel produced the photo he'd been carrying with him for so long, Veronica began to cry. "I was holding onto the picture hoping that I would one day see her. … I just knew in my heart that I would see Veronica one day," he says.
After he returned home to North Carolina, Emmanuel and Veronica spent countless hours talking on the phone. He was ready to propose. Following tradition, he called Veronica's father in Sudan and asked him for her hand in marriage. In return, her father asked for 68 cows as a dowry, which translates to roughly $12,000 in American money. "How am I going to find $12,000?" Emmanuel asked.
When word of Emmanuel's plight spread, two of his friends, Cece and Kristin, came through. Wearing "Got Cattle?" T-shirts, they organized a fundraising walk for true love.
The "Got Cattle?" fundraiser actually raised $15,000, and Emmanuel and Veronica were married in July 2006 in Canada. Emmanuel and Veronica have big news they want to share. Although they are still waiting for immigration permission so they can set up a home together, Veronica is pregnant!
And that's not the only surprise. The Oprah Show arranged for a visa to let Veronica visit Emmanuel in America for Valentine's Day.
Days after she was born, doctors discovered that Carrie had Down syndrome, a birth defect caused by an extra chromosome. People with Down syndrome typically have some mental and physical disabilities and congenital heart defects.
Carrie's parents did everything to give her a normal life, but deep inside, Carrie says she felt something was missing. "I was very lonely because I didn't have anyone," Carrie says. That changed when she met Sujeet, a talented musician who also has Down syndrome. It was love at first sight for both Carrie and Sujeet.
To their parents' surprise, Sujeet asked for Carrie's hand in marriage after six months of dating. "I thought very hard that I wanted to propose and it was a very touching moment," Sujeet says. "I burst out in tears."
Did Carrie cry, too? "Yes…and hyperventilated," she says.
At first, their parents were skeptical, but were willing to consider what it took to make their children happy. "When Carrie was born, we never dreamed that marriage was in the future," Carrie's mother, Peggy, says. "But Carrie has always looked ahead. When she met Sujeet, we could see the love that they had and we knew that they deserved that companionship and relationship."
Before they could get married, Carrie and Sujeet would need a support worker to help them with the basics, like keeping track of money, meals and appointments. Carrie also had a procedure that would prevent her from getting pregnant. "Children are a big responsibility and we just have to be responsible for ourselves, really," she says.
With their parents' approval, the couple celebrated their union with two dream weddings to reflect both of their religions—Sujeet is Hindu and Carrie is Christian. Since they had ceremonies on July 1 and 8, they celebrate their anniversary on the first and eighth day of every month!
"No matter where we are in life, we will never grow apart," Carrie says. "If you really love somebody, never, ever, quit."
Following the devastating tsunami in December 2004 that killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions in Southeast Asia, people across the world opened their hearts and wallets to help.
The effects of the tsunami were felt in many coastal countries, and not just by humans.
When Owen, a wild baby hippopotamus, was washed away from his herd on the coast of Kenya, he was left orphaned. The following day, nearby villagers came to Owen's rescue, bringing him to a local wildlife park. There the search for a surrogate parent led little Owen to Mzee, a cranky 130-year-old giant tortoise. The frightened hippo adopted the old tortoise as his parent. It seemed like love at first sight as Mzee, who was a loner for years, instantly accepted the baby hippo as his own. The pair began eating together and sleeping side by side.
Today, more than two years later, Owen still follows Mzee around the park. Owen and Mzee have formed such a tight bond, workers at the park are worried that Owen is acting too much like a tortoise. They have brought in another hippo to teach Owen how to act a little more hippo-like.
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