On Thursday, March 26, New London Public Schools welcomed Gabriel Bol Deng, one of more than 20,000 Sudanese children who were displaced and/or orphaned during the second Sudanese Civil War.
Deng addressed middle school students enrolled in the Renzulli Academy and students who were selected to participate in the event from Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School with an hour-long keynote address followed by a question and answer period focusing on how the district’s students can help Deng’s non-profit organization HOPE for Ariang.
During the Q&A, students asked Deng questions that centered around his arrival to the United States, how he adjusted to American food and culture and what, if anything, he would change if he could go back in time. Perhaps his most touching answer was that instead of a change, he would try to find his friends, and those who helped rescue him after he fled his village.
He told students the story of tending to cows in the fields near his village when he heard the first gun shots ring out. His first reaction was to run toward the village, to find his family members but he was stopped by two men who pled with him to turn around and run away. Gabriel attempted to run again, closer to the village, but one of the men ran after him and swung him over his shoulder and ran in the other direction.
Gabriel eventally moved to the United States and returned to his hometown to begin a school for young women and girls.
After hearing his powerful story of faith and belief in himself, BDJMS students then came up with ideas on how they can help Deng's non-profit foundation, HOPE for Ariang.
The HOPE for Ariang Foundation is dedicated to providing South Sudanese with inclusive access to education, opportunities, and resources, with a special focus on women and girls.
Deng was 10 years old when North Sudanese Murahileen militiamen led a violent attack on his village of Ariang in South Sudan in 1987. He fled into a forest, not knowing the fate of his parents or siblings. After his escape, he embarked on a perilous four-month long journey, crossing the Nile River and untold miles of desert; surviving disease, and devastating hunger to reach the Dimma Refugee Camp in Ethiopia. In 1988, he had a life-changing dream in which he was reminded of his parents’ charge to him as a young boy: that he could move mountains with the power of hope. This mantra continues to guide him.