Guest Speaker Discusses Sudan’s Civil War with Fifth and Sixth Graders

The boys in Grades Five and Six welcomed a special visitor on December 9. Keer Deng, who is from Sudan, talked with the students about his experience during the civil war in that country. Prior to his appearance, history teacher Mary Bosworth provided the boys with background materials. The boys had read a book on the topic, “A Long Walk to Water,” and watched the 2014 movie, “The Good Lie.” Hearing about Mr. Deng’s first-hand experience of escaping the war and coming to America certainly made the story all the more real. Despite his suffering, however, Mr. Deng somehow found the strength to persevere and was filled with hope for his future here in America. A student at the Lighthouse School for the blind (he lost his eyesight after having chili pepper rubbed in his eyes by a brutal captor), he has learned Braille, can now speak English (also Arabic!) and continues to take lessons to learn how to play both the piano and drums.

Mr. Deng spoke to the boys about many other things, including how fortunate he is, as a former slave, Black African and member of the Dinka tribe (one of 64 tribes) to have been aided by so many people and organizations. He spoke highly of Ellen Ratner (he affectionately calls her “Mamma Chicken”), a White House correspondent and bureau chief for Talk Media News, who works with Goats for the Old Goats. This organization aids former slaves and people in South Sudan who have been affected by the civil conflict there.

The boys were riveted by the material Mr. Deng presented, particularly the fact that before he can marry, a Sudanese man must be able to provide his future bride’s family with 100 cows! These animals are vital to the people as a source of milk, etc. He also spoke of his many corneal transplant surgeries and the fact that, despite their subsequent failure, he will never give up hope of regaining his eyesight. The boys were fascinated to know that Mr. Deng loves running and sports, particularly soccer, basketball and skiing, and that he sometimes relies on his “smart phone” and Siri to help him enjoy such activities.

Mr. Deng often noted that his own education is so important to him (he is working on earning a G.E.D.), and that he hopes the Browning boys will use their education to help those in need – not only here is America but around the world. He also advised them to become more independent and not rely on their parents too much, to travel, to keep learning (“you can be the next Einstein”) and to “just keep on going” when challenged by adversity. Amazingly, while he has suffered the loss of his parents and sister, Mr. Deng’s warmth, optimism and sense of humor remain intact. “I did not want to be alone, so I just kept going,” he said. “Never give up too soon on life. One day you may be feeling sad, but after you sleep, the next day you realize the sadness is not permanent.”

For more information on Mr. Deng, Ms. Bosworth suggests the following online resources:

  1. "The billionaire and the slave: Extraordinary bond between blinded teen from Sudan and 'Uncle Bruce' who rescued him (and now they're hanging out courtside with Jay-Z)," Daily Mail
  2. "From torment in Sudan to a life of hope, promise," Boston Globe