Inspired by Deng: What refugees can become with support and opportunity


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Deng Majok-gutatur Chol speaks at the Fragility Forum 2016

As the refugee crisis continues, there has been a chorus of fear in host countries that they will “drain precious state resources” by putting pressure on healthcare, education and welfare systems.  
But that’s not the only side of the story. I met an inspiring refugee during the Fragility Forum 2016 - Deng Majok-gutatur Chol – who is living proof of why we need to support refugees like him – especially children.
Driven from his village in South Sudan by a devastating civil war, Deng was one of more than 25,000 boys and girls who ran to safety, leaving their parents behind. Only 10 years old, Deng walked more than a thousand miles, traversing forests, deserts, and rivers in a journey that took nearly four months. He kept moving, at some points going thirsty and hungry for days, to reach Ethiopia.
The three years that followed brought mind-numbing horrors, during which many of his companions – other children – were shot dead or died of exhaustion, starvation, and dehydration. Unfortunately, Ethiopia was not safe for them when they became targets of the conflict there. They fled back to South Sudan and finally, Deng arrived at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.

At home, Deng had taken care of the family’s cattle rather than going to school, and he remained illiterate until the age of 13. When given a chance to study in the refugee camp, Deng used trees as a classroom, sandy soil for a notebook, his index finger for a pencil, and his foot as an eraser while learning to read and write. He later taught himself English by comparing the Bible in English and his local language, Dinka, and wrote his own handwritten dictionary.
After a decade in refugee camps or on the run, Deng was one of nearly 4,000 boys and girls, known as the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, who came to the United States, where he currently lives. While he gained impressive academic credentials at the George Washington University and Harvard’s Kennedy School, it is Deng’s humble beginning as a refugee that shapes his character to stand up firmly for millions of disadvantaged people around the world.
Deng’s life story should serve as a compelling epitome of why we should help millions of refugees regain their dignity, lead a normal life, and send their children to school. Conflicts have forced nearly 24 million children out of schools in 22 countries, according to UNICEF. Deng would have been one of them, but some helping hands assisted him along the way to complete his education.
“No child should experience a massive and abrupt displacement, and no child should lose parental love and parental care,” says 6.4 feet-tall Deng. He hopes to see no child “go through my experience to get education.”
His hard work has not only put him on a path of success, but it also helped the lives of his 13 siblings change for the better.  Deng has relocated them from his village to Kenya, where they attend boarding schools and colleges.
With the growing refugee crisis garnering world attention Deng’s message to the world community is “to look at the root causes of wars” and ensure that “violence does not erupt and that we are not caught off guard.”
Deng and a number of his companions were lucky to resettle in more stable places, but 25 years later, the Kakuma refugee camp still houses more than 160,000 people.
“Do you know how much we are wasting in terms of human capacity? The human brain that is just being idle? The energy of these human beings? This is 160,000 brains and their energy that have just gone in 25 years in this refugee camp,” he says.
Unfortunately, protracted refugee situations are not limited to Kakuma camp. Currently there are around 20 million “refugees of concern to UNHCR” around the world, with a large number of them living in places ranging from well-established camps and collective centers to makeshift shelters or living in the open.
We cannot return Deng’s childhood, his parental care, or his siblings that were lost, but today, there are millions of refugee children facing a similar situation across the world that need our help. Deng is an example of what can be achieved when someone is given support and opportunity.  While his story is unique, the success he has achieved does not have to be: refugees and their children are future assets for the global community.

How can development agencies help on that front? Deng shared his take after the Fragility Forum:

Interview with Deng


Farhad Peikar

Communications Specialist, Fragility, Conflict and Violence, The World Bank

kuir lual Bul
March 18, 2016

very healthy contribution congratulation Deng majok Chol conflict as No end over the world,we they children,s are they victims they need support through education and heath care.

Jacob Manyang
March 18, 2016

Those are good outline said by brother Deng. I visited Kakuma refugee camp in Summer of 2014 and the situation there was just horrible. There have to be changes through education, development and more importantly peace need to be brought to all the countries that are in war so that refugees can go back to their homelands.Safety and management of resources provide to refugees is highly needed base on what I learned and saw during my visit to Kakuma refugees camp. May God bless all the refugees around the world and bring peace and safety.

Manyuon Mayom
March 18, 2016

That inspired me a lot, Deng history is related to the life of many south Sudanese children, and children around the world.

Garang Manyang
March 18, 2016

Great message from my colleague. This is a true sharing story and it should be sending a handy message to those who have never gone through those hard experiences. This article is beyond described. I was among the people who got settled on the same program as Deng in the Mid-Western States particular in the city of Sioux Falls in South Dakota. Once again bravo for the great sharing of experience from Deng. Continued to shared a worthy message for others to learn what it means to be a refugee.

Marian Hart
March 19, 2016

During the period of years1964 thru 2000,I had the privilege of working with the International Rescue Committee in the capacity of East African HR Coordinator based in Kenya.There were several occasions when my heart was broken as I sat with a group of boys in the Kakuma Refugee Camp listening as they shared their stories and expressed their dreams of coming to America.
As I read this article, no one can realize the pride and joy I felt to know Deng represents the few "lost boys of Sudan" that made it out and now are carving a path to help those who are still suffering and living in deplorable conditions, not just in Africa but all over the world

guong manyiel
March 19, 2016

Very educative

David Kamar Imana
March 19, 2016

What an inspirational story!! Refugees need to be empowered and supported. Deng was my classmate in school in Kakuma-Kenya. Please, give him my email [email protected] and tell him am currently doing my PhD in Thailand. It is good to see God doing great things to this visionary and industrious man.

Alwong Dot Yuol
March 28, 2016

Hard work pays,thus is time to enjoys and to helps your fellow exiles and it is always good not to forgets all the bad things you have had in your life as a human.And being a refugee mean lots.So many difficulties such as flight of refugees and many wherever they're concerns. Me included, am a refugee but that does not hinders me to pursues my dreams when there are opportunities,let us work like him who has inspired everyone.

Zaida Widad Hayfa Jathibiyya
April 02, 2016

Hello everyone,
I work in a non-profit organization that help refugees in countries that are in war crisis such as Syria and Iraq. We use all the earnings to provide food and clothes to this people that are in need.
We are selling T-shirts, sweatshirts and other products that supports the refugees immigration.
If anyone is interested in helping them we would really appreciate because with that you could bring more dignity to people in a difficult situation in the middle east.

Susan wasuk
April 05, 2016

Thank you deng for your concern about the well
Being of the refugee children, your determination led you to your success, I was one time a refugee woman in Ethiopia, left the country because of war and conflict and know how the suffering of the children who were their with out a parental care, am encouraging you to take the lead in the campaign for education,