Lost Boy of Sudan shares his story with 5th grade students at Norton Elementary School

Approximately 100 fifth-grade students gathered in the cafeteria at C.W. Norton Elementary School on Thursday to hear Jacob Atem tell his life story.

Atem, more widely known as a Lost Boy of Sudan, at a young age found himself caught in the middle of a war and was forced to walk thousands of miles to escape slavery and save his life.

His message to the students: Be grateful.

"I want kids to realize we have it good here in America," he said.

Since December, Norton Elementary class of fifth grade students have been reading "A Long Walk to Water," written by Linda Sue Park. The 128-page book alternates between two 11-year-old children from Sudan named Nya and Salva, refugees fleeing a civil war between North and South Sudan.

Atem, now a CEO of the Southern Sudan Healthcare nonprofit, during the assembly would ask children what they would do if caught in a similar situation.

War: Ukrainian UF students talk about pressures of war while dealing with college classes

Protest: Gainesville High School 'Don't Say Gay' walkout

He said kids should know that they are fortunate to have access to education and live in a country that's not dominated by war.

"It's a true-life story and ... so far out of their realm of understanding that I think it helps create empathy to hear the stories others less fortunate," said Laura Elliot, a media specialist for the school.

At only 6 years old, Atem traveled more than 2000 miles to escape the civil war that took the lives of his family members.He spent the next 10 years of his life at a refugee camp in Kenya.

In 2001, Atem arrived in the U.S., where he lived in Webberville, Michigan as a foster child.

He recently returned from a visit in Sudan earlier this month where he had the opportunity to reunite with his sister, who he thought had died during the civil war.

The two had not seen each other in 31 years.

As a U.S. citizen, and proud parent of Norton elementary school students, Atem spends much of his time running his nonprofit that provides healthcare to those less fortunate in Southern Sudan. The organization is also in the process of trying to build a school in Mongalla, South Sudan.

He wants to give back to the youth in Gainesville, he added, and connect the two cities.

"To let them engage and see what the child in an internally displaced camp looks like, what are his or her challenges compared to a child, for example, in Gainesville, Florida," Atem said. "I think this generation is a generation of technology. We're now in the early stages of building this, but we really want the school to be connected to the school in IDP camp."

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Lost Boy of Sudan shares life story with Norton Elementary students