Daniel Deng uses Education to Bring Peace to South Sudan
By Daniel Deng
October 10, 2017
It all started that chilly morning as I awoke to a sharp pang of cold breeze tearing into my eight-year old smooth tender skin. I had survived yet another gloomy day at the Kakuma Refugee Camp. I scrutinized myself to gain reassurance that, indeed, my body was in a functional state; I could’ve been in a dreamland.
The torn, white long-sleeved and oversized shirt that I wore had been the only possession that I came with to the Kakuma Refugee Camp. That morning, as I shivered in the freezing 6am cold, I declared that I was never going to be the same person that had slept by the garbage pit the night before. It was time for change and I was ready to begin a new journey—a journey of resilience, grit, and determination to conquer life and to emerge victorious.
That morning, as I shivered in the freezing 6am cold, I declared that I was never going to be the same person that had slept by the garbage pit the night before… I was ready for a journey of resilience, grit, and determination to conquer life and to emerge victorious.
Tears rolled uncontrollably down my face as vivid images of South Sudan and my village flashed through my mind.
Let me tell you about all that had transpired six months before then:
A Life Turned on its Head
As always, it was soothingly peaceful in my village Bor, Jonglei State in South Sudan. I had just finished directing my father’s livestock into their stands after an entire day of walking miles and miles in search of their water and pasture. This was my sole responsibility as the youngest son in my humongous, polygamous family, since education was still a very foreign concept in my village. As usual, children jumped up and about as they awaited dinner to be served by their mothers. Men were returning from their usual businesses of discussion and deliberation of matters pertinent to our lives in the village. What a balanced life that was!
Alas! A shriek of sound shot sharply through the quiet dark night! This shriek was immediately followed by thunderous roars of gun shots and sharp wails of screams emanating from the front side of our village. Commotion ensued and every able-bodied person took off for their lives. We all knew what those sounds meant, as the South Sudanese civil war had made us grow acquainted to this kind of life. With the help of my grandmother, I flew through her hut’s tiny window and took off in the direction of our farm to catch up with a few strangers who were also fleeing.
Only after hours, maybe days, of trolling in the scorching sun, through thickets and forests, did I realize that none of my family members were on my journey. My heart leapt. What had become of them? Were they safe? Had they also migrated to somewhere safe? I juggled these unanswered questions through my mind as worry took a good grip of my heart. I walked and walked alongside the strangers, all of us thirsty, hungry, and sick, until we spotted some small, far-away tents that resembled white ants. KAKUMA REFUGEE CAMP was the place. And that was going to be my new home for the next decade.
When Opportunity Meets Preparation
That chilly morning, as I reflected upon these events, I couldn’t help come to the immense realization that I was in charge of my own life—every single action I took or did not take had a huge impact on whether I would live to see the following day or not. I dusted myself off, went to a nearby stream to take a bath and wash my only cloth, and I came out renewed.
To feed myself, I had made up my mind to trade my food ration that the United Nations distributed to every refugee on a fortnightly basis in exchange for cooked food from homes at the refugee camp. I was not going to live on the streets anymore. The following days saw me as an extremely contented child, as if life at the camp was all I had ever been looking for, even though some days left me at a loss when my entire sack of grains and beans would be taken in exchange for just a single plate of food.
As Zig Ziglar once said, “success occurs when opportunity meets with preparation.” He must have had me in mind when he spoke these words. It was during one of these long daily treks in search for food at the camp that I came upon a quiet family. As I explained my predicament and my business to them, the mother was seized by uncontrolled emotions as she tightly embraced me and assured me, “Son look for food no more. Let this be your new home.”
What a moment! At first I could not believe whatever I was hearing. Slowly the words sunk in and a new peace was formed in my heart.
Finding My Mission
A few months with them saw me enrolled in a nearby UN-supported institution. As I mentioned earlier, school had never been part of my life, yet I was extremely curious to know what good came from it as everyone was buzzing about it! Within no time, I was fully convinced that education was the only thing I was going to pursue, no matter the cost, and I firmly believed in its ideals. At that young age, I convinced myself that education was going to be the unification tool with my family as well as for the people of South Sudan, who’d led tortured lives as a grave impact of a civil war that continues to be a detriment to so many.
School had never been part of my life, yet… within no time, I was fully convinced that education was the only thing I was going to pursue, no matter the cost, and I firmly believed in its ideals.
The Peace Power Program was the accumulation of all these events. I conceptualized this idea after admission to the Alliance High School (the best secondary school in Kenya) as I began BELIEVING that the education of my people, especially the youth, was the straight-up best way to achieving peace and prosperity. It was high-time South Sudanese realized that they are one people and nothing was supposed to divide them along the lines of their diverse ethnicities. With my story, I felt like I could inspire a multitude of South Sudanese to believe in the ideals that I was preaching.
It was high-time South Sudanese realized that they are one people and nothing was supposed to divide them along the lines of their diverse ethnicities.
Peace Power South Sudan is a platform that gathers, informs, engages, and supports South Sudanese youth (16-19 years old) by use of a uniquely designed and contextualized citizenship and personality-development curriculum. We do this through our two-week long peace camps each year that bring together youth from diverse social and ethnic backgrounds in South Sudan to engage in conversations as well as learn lessons that transform their perspectives on individual and collective issues affecting the development of South Sudan. Through these efforts, we hope to develop conscious, young South Sudanese leaders and visionaries—independent in their thoughts—who can be ambassadors of peace and development in their areas of origin. We are looking forward to hosting our first official Peace Power Camp in December 2017.
Peace Power South Sudan brings together youth from diverse social and ethnic backgrounds in South Sudan to engage in conversations as well as learn lessons that transform their perspectives on individual and collective issues affecting the development of South Sudan.
Resilience Beyond Resources
The challenge of limited resources has not had any impact on the ideas that I have been able to formulate. Provided I have the will, conviction and determination to pursue success and excellence, nothing can stop me. An invaluable takeaway from the LaunchX entrepreneurship camp at MIT last summer was the definition of entrepreneurship—the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled.
And I’ll never forget my past. It forms an intricate portion of my life as it acts as a reminder to me of the conditions millions of my fellow countrymen currently face and that the actions of educated and enlightened citizens can have a huge impact on the kind of lives they lead. I initiated Peace Power South Sudan as a program that would help bring peace to South Sudan as well as to provide educational opportunities to deserving students who’ve never known the value of education. The power of education is stronger than we actually see it.
The power of education is stronger than we actually see it.
Lastly, with people rallied behind you to support your cause, you are deemed to succeed. The lengths I have reached today with my program and educational journey is hugely attributed to the pool of mentors that I have engaged with, ranging from friends, teachers and advisors from the refugee camp, Alliance High School, the African Leadership Academy, Yale University and LaunchX at MIT. I can’t imagine what I would have achieved without their great roles in shaping my thoughts and actions. Right now, I am even more pleased as I look forward to working with more individuals and organizations to actualize peace in my motherland. Children elsewhere enjoy all the benefits of peaceful life and education. Why can’t it be the same for the children of South Sudan?
This is the cause I’ll dedicate my entire existence to serving.
Want to learn more about the mission and vision of Peace Power South Sudan? Check out their video message from last month’s International Peace Day, below.