Teen goes from civil war in DR Congo, to refugee camp, to Utah’s state championship game

Posted at 10:33 PM, Nov 19, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-20 00:33:06-05

ROY, Utah – Roy High School’s football team will play Timpview High School in the 4A state championship game Friday, and one Roy player has had a long road to get to this point.

Ben Aikuli survived a civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and has found a new life in Utah, where plays as the kicker for Roy's team.

Ben was 6 years old when he and his brother returned home to find their house burning and the rest of their family gone. The brothers, unsure of what to do next, went into the jungle.

"We didn't know where to go,” Ben said. “We didn't know where we were going. We were just like, ‘Um well, here we are, just going,' and we don't know where we will stop."

The brothers lived that way for two years, sustaining themselves by gathering fruits and berries between the times they were able to find villages where they could ask for food and shelter.

"I mean, it was really sad for us because we were little,” Ben said. “We didn't have anybody else to take care of us. We had to take care of each other."

The pair eventually made their way to a refugee camp in Uganda, where they stayed for five years. Catholic Community Services helped bring them to Utah, where Ben settled into a foster home. Ben said the support in the community has been great.

Ben and his brother received good news earlier this year, learning that their family was still alive. They were able to speak with their family over the phone on Mother’s Day and learned the family thought the brothers had died and had even held a funeral for them.

"It changed everything about me,” Ben said. “I mean, I felt like I was there again, I felt like I have somebody there that [I] can call my family... But looking back and seeing that my parents are still there and they've been thinking about us the whole way, it has changed me. It has made me more of a happier guy, and I’m going to progress in life. It's been really fantastic."

Ben and his brother have only spoken to their family over the phone, but they said they hope to have an in-person reunion soon.