AMHERST – Considering his past, it would be very easy for Jacob Deng to be bitter about his youth.
A victim of the Sudanese civil war that killed more than two million of his countrymen, Deng was forced to flee his South Sudanese village as a boy in 1987 when government-supported insurgents attacked Duk Padiet, killing 20 members of his family including his mother, brothers, uncles and nephews.
Instead of anger or bitterness, Deng is working to make life better for those he left behind. He is touring the Maritimes raising money to build a school in his village so young people there can have an opportunity to better themselves.
“From my journey I have learned that life is not fair sometimes, but I have endured that pain. Instead of being bitter and angry and have become a servant of those in need,” said Deng, who came to Canada in 2003 as part of a refugee resettlement program.
Deng, who spent 15 years in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, saw human beings at their worst. He has seen starvation, a lack of water and no education. And he spent most of his life on the run.
He managed to get an education with help from UNICEF, other non-governmental organizations and UN officials. He worked as a translator for medical personnel at age 11 and met a Canadian diplomat who helped facilitate his move to Canada.
He studied at CompuCollege and spent two years at both Acadia and Saint Mary’s University and is now married with two boys and living in Halifax.
“When I arrived in Canada all I could think about was how I could help my people,” Deng told members of the Amherst Rotary Club on Monday. “I kept thinking that if I survived there was no way I could shy away from what happened. We are human beings and we don’t share our stories we are bound to repeat them. I could be a human being that hates everything, but I believe in humanity and love and I want to give back to this world.”
He also worked with the Nova Scotia government learning this country’s system of governance so he can take what he learned back to the new country of South Sudan that is celebrating its first anniversary since separating from the Muslim-dominated Sudan.
In 2006, he went back to his village and began his campaign to raise the $250,000 required to build a school. To date, he has surpassed $70,000 and hopes to go back in February with news that construction can begin.
He is also hoping to buy a mud compressor that will help in the school’s construction and needs to purchase a vehicle to transport supplies some 600 kilometres to the village.
Deng believes in a South Sudan where all citizens have the opportunity to shape their own future and his mission is to promote peace and security through learning.
Former MP Bill Casey is amazed at Deng’s story.
“He’s an inspiring person,” said Casey, who took Deng to Ottawa to meet with federal officials including Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “If we were all like Jacob Deng the world would be a much better place.”