Lost Boy of Sudan shares tale of war, survival

Gabriel Bol Deng was just 13 years old when his village in Sudan was attacked and burned by militiamen during a deadly civil war.

A decades-long conflict in the Sudan has left thousands dead, and displaced families across the war-torn African nation. On Monday, a Lost Boy of the Sudan told his story of survival at St. Johnâ??s Jesuit High School.

It was 1987 when thirteen year-old Gabriel Bol Deng fled his village of Ariang, in present-day South Sudan. North Sudan Murahileen militiamen laid siege to the village, burning the buildings and killing its people. Deng escaped, leaving his family behind. It would be over a decade before he learned the fate of his parents.

Students from St. Ursula Academy and St. Johnâ??s Jesuit High School were originally inspired by Deng after hearing his story during a field trip to Washington D.C. last November. The schools invited Deng to Toledo so others could be inspired by his presentation.

â??His thirst for survival and being the best that he can possibly be, even though so many tragedies have occurred in his life, I think really resonated with our students,â?? said Phil Skeldon, Director of Christian Service at St. Johnâ??s Jesuit. He continued, â??I think itâ??s a message that our students who went to D.C. wanted their fellow classmates to hear.â??

Deng would endure a perilous trek across the African desert and Nile River, encountering deadly animals, hunger, and disease. Deng recounted one night he had to spend up in a tree, as hungry lions prowled underneath. Many like him, who escaped, died of starvation. When Deng reached Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya in 1992, his leg was nearly paralyzed from a poisonous snake bite suffered during the journey.

â??When something happens in your life, at some point you need to get over it and move on,â?? said Deng. â??I use it now as a source of inspiration for other people so they too can overcome some of the obstacles in their own lives.â??

During his nine years at Kakuma, Deng would learn the value of literacy and education. In 2001, Deng came to the United States as a Lost Boy of Sudan, through the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program. Upon his arrival, Deng experienced a culture-shock. He remembered eating Subway for the first time (Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki, specifically), obtaining a driverâ??s license, and seeing snow for the first time (which he believed to be sugar)

In 2007, Deng earned a degree in Mathematics, Education, and Philosophy from LeMoyne College. The same year, he returned to Ariang in search of his family. He discovered his parents had been killed in the conflict, but he did get to reunite with friends and other family members.

â??There is still war going on in Sudan and around the world,â?? stressed Deng. He hopes that when people hear his story, they can put into context that war â??Affects people like me, and people like me can create awareness.â??

Through hard work and his mission Hope for Ariang, Deng has helped his village by drilling wells for clean water, and building a school that has helped educate over 500 men and women in Sudan. He now tours the United States, using his story to inspire others to overcome adversity.