Wadeng Wings of Hope exists because of the vision of one person, Jacob Deng, a young man who, as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, survived unimaginable hardships as a child and adolescent, and came to Nova Scotia as a refugee in 2003. Jacob’s dream of building schools in South Sudan arose from the deprivation and harrowing escape he experienced, and many in Nova Scotia and other parts of Canada have been inspired by his compelling story to join in his vision.
Jacob, a member of the Dinka tribe, was born in Duk Padiet, a village near the Nile in southern Sudan (now South Sudan). When insurgents supported by the government that came to power in a coup in 1989 ravaged his village, burning everything in sight and slaughtering people, including most of Jacob’s family, Jacob as a seven-year-old child fled on foot with thousands of other boys to Ethiopia, barely surviving the four-month trek. With little to eat and dangers from soldiers and wild animals, many of the boys did not make it. In a camp of 20,000 boys in Ethiopia, life did not improve much, as food proved to be scarce if available at all, and again many of the boys did not survive. Their best hope lay in their makeshift outdoor school, where they received a rudimentary education. By 1991, when Ethiopia forced them to leave, they again were on the run, with the support of soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. They drank water from tanks contaminated by diesel fuel, making them ill.
After some time on the Sudanese border, they started another trek, barefoot in the scorching heat, to a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya. The food rations given once a week would last no more than three days, and during these “black days” with no food or water, concentrating on school lessons proved impossible. An average of twenty boys died each day. Jacob knew he needed an education, but this was not the way to get it.
Taking a great risk, he left the camp and returned to Sudan, traded his bag of clothes for tobacco, and then traded the tobacco for goats. He returned to Kenya with five goats, and the sale of the goats enabled him to enter a boarding school. Help from UNICEF, other non-governmental organizations, and UN officials kept him in school. Always enterprising, with knowledge of a number of languages, he started serving as a translator for medical personnel at the age of eleven. Eventually he met a Canadian diplomat, who helped to facilitate his refugee application to Canada. Unlike many Sudanese refugees in Canada, who quickly moved west to find work, Jacob has kept his dream of an education alive, completing a commerce degree at Saint Mary’s University. He lives in Halifax with his wife Jenty, and their three children.