ABERDEEN, S.D. – At age 14, William Deng left his home and family in South Sudan, walking for nine days through the jungle to escape civil war and to seek an education for himself.
Deng, a graduate student at Northern State University, will share his story at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, in the newly remodeled Krikac Auditorium. He will also discuss his foundation, South Sudan Fund for Children, which he created as a way of giving back.
“Life is not what you have, but what you give,” said Deng, 26.
Deng endured numerous hardships on his walk from Aweil to the more advanced northern Sudan on his way to the U.S. to live with his brother. Besides threats of lion attacks, Deng dealt with threats from his traveling companions that resulted in him walking alone through the jungle for two days.
Somehow, he kept going.
“I don’t know how I did it,” he said. “It’s all the power of God.”
His long journey eventually led him to Sioux Falls, where he lived with his older brother, Akech Aweai. After graduating from Roosevelt High School, Deng came to Northern, where he earned his international business degree in 2011. He is now working toward a master’s degree in banking and financial services.
Deng has visited South Sudan twice and said the country, which became independent in 2011, is calmer, with no civil war. But a lot of improvements are needed – there are no school buildings, no supplies, no educated teachers. Deng’s goal through South Sudan Fund for Children is to build schools and provide school supplies and other necessities in Aweil. A foundation website is coming soon.
When Deng left home, his dream was to “maybe one day change the world.” It’s a dream, he said with a smile, that he is still going after.
“I want to make sure the next generation doesn’t go through what I went through.”
Deng’s speech, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by the NSU Honors Program and the NSU Common Read.
The common read book is Warren St. John’s “Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference.” St. John will speak at NSU at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 18, in the Johnson Fine Arts Center Theater.