Speaker from Sudan inspires with life stories

By Nahuel Fefer
Published: April 2010

In 1987, at the age of 10, Gabriel Deng’s world came crashing down around him. He fled the remains of his destroyed village and began a four month odyssey to escape southern Sudan.

Despite numerous peace efforts, conflicts over resources, race, and religion persist there till this day.

Brought to South by junior Jenna Marks, Deng delivered his inspiring story to a packed auditorium on April 6. Deng based his presentation on three broad themes: escape, education, and aid.
According to Deng, in Sudan, Africans are treated as second-class citizens by the Arab controlled government and African Christians are persecuted even more.

Competition for resources such as water and oil exacerbated the conflict and turned it into genocide.

The detailed account of his escape astounded students. He was tending to his cattle when Arab militiamen from northern Sudan destroyed his village and massacred its inhabitants. Deng was shot at, but survived by pretending to have been dead and hiding among dead bodies.

Immediately after fleeing his village, Deng joined a group of refugees, who like him had escaped the carnage.
With the group, Deng braved the Nile on bundles of papyrus leaves and journeyed across the desert for almost two months before reaching relative safety in Ethiopia.

As Deng remembered his incredibly difficult journey he said, “As people died around me, I despaired, thinking I was next on this death row. I personally saw four children my age die. Altogether about 80,000 refugees made it to Deng’s refugee camp.

“While his escape was truly amazing, just as important and inspiring was his message of hope, resilience, and hard work, junior Ben Tolkin said. Deng stressed the importance of studying and working hard when he lived in the refugee camp from 1987 to 2001.

He explained that what motivated him to work and be resilient was something ingrained in him from an early age.

“My parents told me that 10% of what happens in life you can’t control, don’t worry about that ten percent. But 90% of what happens you can control, he said.

He took control of his life through education and hard work. He realized that education was his best chance at survival.

Through this realization he chose to begin schooling immediately after recovering from dehydration and snakebites in the under resourced medical facilities.

Even though his class met under a tree, Deng recalled the seriousness with which children behaved at school.
Education was, as he explained, the only way out of poverty and the only way to regain control of one’s life.
This is a stark contrast with our own school where we often take our education for granted.

Yet even the relative safety of the Ethiopian refugee camp did not last.

In 1991, civil war broke out in Ethiopia and the refugees were forced to escape from their asylum, which had now allied itself with Sudan’s oppressive government.

Despite being attacked and bombed as they fled, many refugees including Deng managed to reach Kenya. There they were frugally supported by the United Nations.

In 2000, Deng’s hard work finally paid off. Out of 17,000 young refugees who applied to the refugee resettlement program in the United States only 4,000 were selected, Deng was one of them.

Since then, Deng has attended and graduated college. He has successfully settled into the United States despite being supported by the government for a mere four months.

However what is perhaps most admirable about Mr. Deng is that after all the hardship that he has lived and struggled through, he still thinks of himself as privileged to have had the opportunity to live and to go to college in America.

He has not forgotten his struggles, and he has remembered those who are still in Sudan where the situation has only worsened.

To help these people, Deng is currently organizing the Hope for Ariang Project.

The Ariang Project is bringing schools and clean water to unprivileged villages in southern Sudan.

Deng’s presentation had a large impact on those who heard it. Perhaps most importantly, it made the topic of atrocities in Sudan more real and helped make students more aware of the issue.

Sophomore Jackie Lebovits is a great example of the large impact that Deng’s words had. “I find it remarkable how little I knew about what is going on there. After watching the presentation I want to find out more, she said.

The world community is relatively uninvolved in Sudan’s conflict.

Most countries and organizations state that they disapprove of what the Sudanese government is doing, but the situation has not yet improved and little is being done to change that.

By coming to South, Deng brought a distant issue up close, made it real, and paved a way for change.

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