“Wrong is wrong, no matter how small it is,” Simon Deng said.
Deng began by clarifying that, even before the United Nations acknowledged it, Sudan was two countries, North and South. Overall, Sudan was overtaken by radicals who attempted to impose religious views on the African tribes. It took years for the people of South Sudan to gain recognition as an independent state, and preserve their culture in the face of an invading force.
Deng was 9 years old when he was abducted from his home village by his own neighbor and forced into slavery as a “gift” to the man’s cousin. At the time, Deng didn’t understand the meaning of slavery. He was beaten, humiliated, and forced to do hard labor. He could not “even say a word because [he] was owned by another human being.”
“For three and a half years, it was hell. I was not considered a human being.” We, as free citizens, cannot image how he felt. Slavery is still a serious issue, and as Deng spoke, we should be concerned about it.
Fortune smiled upon Deng when he was nearly 13 years old. He ran into two men with tribal markings when the sons of his owners attended high school in a more populated city. These two men connected him to someone from his village, who secreted him away from captivity and back to his home, where he reunited with his family. Deng learned that his father had offered 10 cows, a substantial reward, for anyone who could provide information or help find his missing son. The family was overjoyed to be whole again once more.
The first thing Deng did when he returned home, was to have his tribe’s markings placed upon his face. Deng recalled how his slave master would tell him that unless he gave up his identity as a member of an African tribe, and joined his master’s religion, Deng would continue to be less than human. Deng took the markings to give himself an identity, something he considers just as important, if not more so, than freedom.
Deng has spent much of his life since, traveling parts of the world and speaking to anyone who will listen, about the horrors he lived through, and the steps we need to take to fix these issues. He has organized Sudan Walks across the USA and in the Netherlands, to build support for his people. He thanks and supports Israel, as the only country in the world how gives freedoms and rights to immigrants and refugees. Israel was the first country to recognize South Sudan as an independent country, and South Sudan remains allies with Israel.
Originally published in Albany Student Press.
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