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Speaker at UV spreads message of hope and perseverance
Gabriel Bol Deng never gave up, even in the face of poverty, separation from his parents and other obstacles. Deng, a former “lost boy,” was only 10 years old when militiamen from North Sudan attacked his village of Ariang in South Sudan in 1987. But that is just the beginning of his story.

He left the village without his family, and for four months, he journeyed across the African continent before reaching refugee camp in Ethiopia. He came to the U.S. in 2001, earned a bachelor’s degree from LeMoyne College and founded the “HOPE for Ariang Foundation,” which built a school in Ariang which educates about 500 children.

In early October, Deng spread his message of hope and overcoming adversity to students in grades 6-8 at Unadilla Valley. English language arts teacher Katie Wolford helped bring him to the district, because her seventh grade students are reading “A Long Walk to Water,” which is about another Sudanese lost boy.

“It’s part of the Common Core curriculum in ELA to read the book, and we thought the presentation would help bring it to life,” Wolford said.

“He talked about not giving up and all the challenges he faced, and his message to the kids was really strong about appreciating what they have.”

Deng talked about a 90-10 split, where students have control over 90 percent of their “mountains” or personal obstacles.

“He really brought a message of hope and not giving up,” Wolford said.

After the presentation, she asked her students to write about what they thought of it, and if they would like to see someone else speak to them next year from Deng’s tribe.

Mara Wood wrote that the presentation was “very powerful” for her.

“It taught me to be thankful for what I have, because Gabriel lost everything he had, and we take so much for granted,” she wrote. “Gabriel talks about his ‘mountains’ and one of my mountains is science.”

Kyler Butts also wrote how he admired how Deng never gave up.

“I would like to see someone come back so I could see what their perspective is too,” he added.


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