Gabriel Bol Deng gave the following keynote address at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice 2012 in Washington, DC.
At the age of 10, Gabriel Bol Deng fled his home village of Ariang in South Sudan in 1987 after it was attacked by North Sudan Murahileen militiamen. He fled, not knowing the fate of his parents or siblings. After his escape, Gabriel embarked on a harrowing, four month journey across the Nile River and the untold miles of desert, surviving disease and paralyzing hunger to reach Ethiopia. While at refugee camp in Ethiopia, Gabriel first learned English by writing on cardboard with pieces of charcoal. Four years later, he fled from violence again, leaving Ethiopia and traveling cross country to Kenya, where he lived and continued his primary and secondary education. It was in the refugee camps that Gabriel first realized the importance of literacy education.
In 2001, Gabriel came to Syracuse, New York under the U.S refugee resettlement program. In 2007 he graduated from Le Moyne College with a Bachelors’ Degree in Mathematics education and Philosophy. He was named the Student Teacher of the Year by Le Moyne College. It was education that gave Gabriel the hope for a better future and inspired him to found HOPE for Ariang foundation with the mission of promoting peace in South Sudan by educating its children, empowering women by providing economic opportunities, beginning with Gabriel’s native village of Ariang. He believes education not only offers a brighter future to the children of Ariang village, but also is the key to achieving lasting peace and sustainable development in South Sudan.
In May 2007, Gabriel returned to South Sudan after 20 years to look for his family, a journey documented in an Award- winning documentary, Rebuilding Hope.
The film has received several awards and has been shown at various film festivals all over the world in cities like Tokyo, Paris, London, Mumbai, and New York City. Author Alice Walker (“The Color Purple”) remarked “Rebuilding Hope is a deeply moving study in loss and suffering, in courage, in wisdom of the meaning of Life as Humans, that seems as old as the continent of Africa.”
Gabriel now speaks about his life story and the mission of HOPE for Ariang in schools and organizations throughout the United States and around the world. His dream of building a school in his native village of Ariang is now being realized. The construction of the school was completed in May 2011.
The school is now educating 500 children, including 130 girls. Over 400 villagers including women were employed in the construction of the school. Hundreds of children were fed as a result of their parents’ involvement in the construction of the school.
Fresh drinking water is now available to more than ten thousand people for the first time ever in Ariang and surrounding villages. This is only the beginning, however. “A school is not a building,” Gabriel reminds us. He is now working towards sustainability of the school. His immediate goals are constructing a brick fence to protect school property and provide sanctuary for learning, supporting further education for teachers, and promoting entrepreneurship through micro-finance program among the villagers, especially women so that they can generate income for their families as well as providing ongoing funding towards the school’s operating expenses. Ariang School is a beacon of hope for hundreds of children and their families in Ariang.