Refugee from South Sudan recounts journey to U.S.

Gabriel Bol Deng fled his village without knowing the whereabouts of his parents and siblings

November 16, 2011|By DAN DEARTH |
  • Gabriel Bol Deng spoke to St. Maria Goretti students during a presentation Wednesday at the Gael Center in Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

Gabriel Bol Deng has come a long way since 1987 when militiamen attacked his village in South Sudan.

At the time, the 10-year-old played dead to avoid being killed. When he finally raised his head, he saw dead bodies and buildings on fire.

"The militia thought I was dead, and they left," Deng told St. Maria Goretti students during a presentation Wednesday at the Gael Center in Hagerstown.

Deng said he fled the village without knowing the whereabouts of his parents and siblings. The next four months of his life were spent trying to reach a refugee camp in Ethiopia.

He said the journey took him across the Nile River and across miles of desert.

"I had a lot of difficulty running away from lions and avoiding crocodiles," said Deng, noting much of that time he was hungry and scared.

Deng told the students that he relied on something his father taught him to get through the ordeal — to always put faith in God and in himself.

That lesson eventually paid off.

Deng made it to the United States in 2001, where six years later, he earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics, education and philosophy from Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y.

Deng said he returned to South Sudan in 2007 to search for his family. He said he learned that his parents and some of his siblings had died while he was away.

Being from a war-torn country, Deng has several missions to improve the quality of life for those who are less fortunate. He said one of those missions has been trying to improve education in South Sudan.

He is involved in the Hope for Ariang Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making education accessible for all people in South Sudan.

Goretti students in the school's International Club presented Deng with a $250 check to help with his cause.

Seniors Theresa Barton and Beth Eich said the students raised the money primarily by selling food after school. They said they also held a fundraiser last year to help children in Haiti, and plan to raise money next semester to help children in Somalia, an East-African country plagued by starvation.

"It's really awesome to know that we're a really small school ... helping another country in need," Eich said.

Barton said speakers like Deng are important because they help spotlight the hardships of children in other parts of the world.

"It's cool for other people to come here and tell us about what they've been through," Barton said. The International Club "just wanted to get the student body together to help support the cause."

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