Sudan refugee tells his story of survival and hope - Indiana State University: News

Sudan refugee tells his story of survival and hope

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Posted: Monday, October 14, 2013 12:00 am

All seats were taken at CANDLES Museum Thursday night to listen to Gabriel Bol Deng speak about what "the power of hope" meant to him through his journey to America after his home village was burned to the ground.

Deng was born in a small village in Sudan. There, he said, he was taught a powerful message about life.

Deng said his parents told him he could move mountains if he put his mind to it and that he didn't need material items in life to be happy.

He said these words gave him hope after his life was destroyed in a single day.

Deng said while watching the family's cows, which were prized possessions, he heard gunshots and immediately knew something was wrong. 

Militiamen attack Deng's village, killing several of the residents as they burned it down, he said.

Deng told the audience that he hid beneath some grass while the men stole the village's cattle. 

When they were gone, he ran to the village. Then the militiamen attacked again. 

A man from the village tried to save Deng, but was shot trying to carry him to safety, he said.

Deng said he pretended to be dead beside the man who died trying to save his life. 

The militiamen went through the town to make sure everyone was dead before they left. Afterward, Dang said he slowly got up and ran into the forest, hiding in a tree as protection from lions. He sat there for what felt like days before he spotted people.

 But Deng was scared and said he hid higher in the tree while the men sat around and talked about their lives. 

Deng said he realized that they were friendly and shouted out to them. 

These men told Deng they wouldn't harm him. They ran for two months trying to find shelter, crossing the Nile River and traversing across deserts before finally arriving at a refugee camp in Ethiopia.

During this moment, Deng said he was introduced to education. From these events he wanted to educate himself and believed he would one day reach his goal.

Today, Deng has an associate's degree in mathematics and science at Onondaga Community College and is working on his bachelor's degree at Le Moyne College.

Deng became a US citizen on June 22, 2006. He is also the founder and of HOPE for Araing, where he works as associate director. 

He said he wants to use his experiences to educate the children of South Sudan so they can hope for a better future.

Trisha Bays, a junior social work major at Indiana State, said she was very impressed by all  Deng has done with his life.

"I was impressed that he had the courage to go back and help his people," Bays said after the presentation. "I loved how in his speech he showed us the process of how he helps create the school for the children."

ISU staff members were also attended to hear Deng's speech about his life and the hope that education brought him.

"I thought it was important he had the resilience to keep fighting his situation, but most importantly that he had the hope that there would be a better day," said Betsy Frank, a professor in the College of Nursing, Health and Human Services.

Frank also said that, "No matter how bad your life is, if you can have hope for a better life, you can succeed."

Deng said his goal now is to make the school he built in Sudan self-sufficient and start building other schools for more Sudanese children.

"Through hard work and reform, America has become a great nation. Education also does not come easy," Deng said. "With education, these children have the hope to move forward within their own community."

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