Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Native speaks about the crisis in Sudan

By Courtney Westlake

Simon Aban Deng, a refugee from Sudan and survivor of child slavery, spoke to the UIS community on Tuesday afternoon, February 26, about his experiences and the troubles in his native country.

Deng was born into a large family, and his village of Tonga was a peaceful farming community, despite frequent raids by the Sudanese army. But when Deng was eight years old, the Sudanese army swept through his village, burning huts and brutally murdering the residents.

"What came in my mind was 'today I am going to die'," he said.

The raid displaced Deng's surviving family and neighbors, who took refuge in the city of Malkal. Then Deng was kidnapped while living there and forced into slavery. He eventually escaped and later went on to work as a messenger in the Sudanese parliament and then became a national swimming champion.

Today he is an American citizen, working as a lifeguard on Coney Island and leading the struggle to stop genocide in Sudan. He has addressed audiences across the nation about human rights.

Originally, after he became free from slavery, he vowed to never talk about what he had experienced, he said. But after reading about his fellow Sudanese people being sold for $5 or $10, he knew he had to tell his story.

"To me, it was a turning point. I have to come out and tell the world that when they are talking about buying a human being, yes it is true; I was one," he said. "I have to do the right thing and be the voice for those who have no voice. We are all entitled to the God-given right of freedom."

The crisis in Sudan is not new, Deng said. Murder and slavery have been occurring since 1956, when the country gained its independence from Britain.

"The Sudan you know today became known in 2003 because of what is happening in the western regions of Darfur," he said. "What happens in Sudan is not new to me."

No human being should be subjected to the slavery and violence that is occurring in Sudan, Deng said.

"Slavery still exists, and I am standing before you as living proof of slavery in Sudan. Every pain that they are going through, I know those pains," Deng said. "This is the Sudan you are probably not aware of. This is the Sudan I'm aware of and those who come from Sudan are aware of. Today we are coming together and saying that we are not going to be bystanders."