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Feature: Surviving Tomorrow



For much of Thon Deng’s life, staying alive was the overriding priority. One of Sudan’s “lost boys,” Deng survived years of war, terror and starvation. He’s now building a new life in the ...

For much of Thon Deng’s life, staying alive was the overriding priority. One of Sudan’s “lost boys,” Deng survived years of war, terror and starvation. He’s now building a new life in the United States and helping those still in need back in Sudan.



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Feature: Surviving Tomorrow Document Transcript

  • 1. 10 | wired 24/7 14 | Surviving Tomorrow 21 | homecoming Think you’re tech savvy? A Sudanese student’s story A week of fun for all Think again. fALL 2008 www.sjsu.edu
  • 2. in this issue 2 From the editor 3 Letters 4 Quicktakes/Updates 7 Spotlight Will college students vote in the presidential election? 8 Panorama Coming up with solutions to life’s everyday problems. 10 Wired 24/7 Writer Mansi Bhatia ventures into the plurking, tweeting world of Web 2.0. 14 Surviving tomorrow For much of Thon Deng’s life, staying alive was the overriding priority. His indomitable spirit helped him through years of war, terror and starvation. 18 Sports! Spartan Stadium in her jubilee year 22 Noteworthy Jenny Do: A litigator and artist with a passion for helping others. sharon hall 25 From alums 29 Spartan Heritage 30 My VIP on the cover SJSU senior Thon Majak Deng (above) spent more than a decade in refugee camps in Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan before getting resettled in the United States in 2001. An associate producer of the Emmy-nominated documentary “The Lost Boys of Sudan,” Deng also co-founded Coalition of the Willing, a nonprofit organization that raises funds and awareness about the ongoing needs in southern Sudan. Photograph : Sharon Hall voLume 16 - number 1 | fALL 2008 sjsu washington square is published quarterly by the office of public affairs, san josé state university preSidenT jon whitemore vice preSidenT for univerSiTy AdvAncemenT fred najjar ediTor sylvia light ALumni ediTor Kat meads ArT direcTion/deSign eunice ocKerman this publication is available in alternate formats. for an accommodation, please call 408-924-1166. online at www.sjsu.edu/wsq SubScripTion informATion sjsu washington square is provided to all sjsu almuni. to change your subscription, go to www.SjSu.edu/wSq/SubScripTionS, or phone : 408-924-1166 ; or via usps mail : wSq ediTor / SjSu / one wAShingTon SquAre / SAn joSe, cA 95192-0005. fALL 2008 sjsu Washington square 1
  • 3. libya egypt saUdi a r a bi a cH a d sUda n centr a l a frica n repUblic b or etHiopi a jub A democr atic repUblic Uga nda ken ya of congo
  • 4. and hyenas at night to avoid the brutality of the sun. He ate mud and drank water only when he was lucky enough to find them. He walked with strangers toward a country he’d never seen, not knowing where he would sleep or what the next day would bring. “It was difficult to survive,” he says of what would be the first of many uncertain journeys. “There was no food. There Fighting broke out early in the morning were many people like me, separated from family by the war, traveling east to where there was no sound of guns.” in his village in southern Sudan. The sound of guns has filled Sudan’s countryside for Without food, water or family, he ran much of the last half century. Dominated by Islamic military regimes since gaining independence from Britain in 1956, for three weeks through barren desert Sudan’s two civil wars were rooted in the Muslim north’s to find safety in an Ethiopian social, political and economic oppression of the mostly non- Muslim south. More than two million have been reported refugee camp. dead and at least another four million have been displaced. War’s children He was nine years old. Deng was among many refugees displaced repeatedly. War between Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea forced thousands Now 30 and a senior in economics, Thon Majak Deng looks of children out of Ethiopia’s United Nations- and American like any other San José State student, sporting a San José Sharks Red Cross-supported camps back to Sudan. jacket and carrying a copy of The Quiet American. But the story “There were about 22,000 boys of 8, 9 and 10, and some of how he got here is both humbling and remarkable. girls without parents,” recalls Deng. “When we returned to “I still remember that morning,” he says. “My sister came Sudan, only 17,000 arrived. Nobody knows what happened running into my room and said, ‘Thon, Thon wake up! We to the rest of them. Because there was intense fighting there, need to go!’ Then I realized there was shooting and bombing maybe some were shot in the crossfire.” going on, and people running everywhere in town.” Having lived in the Ethiopian camp for four years, Deng His sister left him with a woman from town and prom- found himself back in Sudan, again supported by the United ised to return with a car and her husband, headmaster of the Nations, but in more precarious circumstances. “Sudan is town’s school. But the fighting was getting closer and every- Sudan,” he says, which means the government had access one was fleeing. The woman taking care of Deng began to to the refugees. Government forces mobilized and attacked run. He followed. the town where Deng and the others had been living for “After running for about 30 minutes, a Toyota came by and just eight months. it stopped. My sister jumped out of the car to take her daugh- At 13, Deng had to run again. ter, who was about my age and also running in the crowd, and “We spent three months walking in the desert toward Kenya,” left me there,” recalls Deng, his voice drifting off. “I looked he says. “You can’t walk in the winter because it rains too tawnee chan around and there was nobody, so I kept running.” much. The only safe time is summer, which makes the desert One of thousands of “lost boys” displaced by civil war in hot and dry, but it’s better because there are no difficulties Sudan, Deng fled to Ethiopia in 1987. He walked among lions with mosquitoes.” fALL 2008 sjsu Washington square 15
  • 5. Deng reached the Kakuma Refu- Sudden possibilities gee Camp in northern Kenya where he If coming to the United States was would stay for nine years. Although he fraught with uncertainty, it was also was able to attend school for the first charged with possibility. Getting to time and complete high school, camp what is now his last semester at San José restrictions and inadequate food rations State has brought more than his share made every day a struggle for survival. of challenges, but Deng doesn’t dwell “Life in the Kenyan camp was not on the negative. equal to how Kenyans lived,” says Deng, “Sometimes God does what you who likened conditions to those in a don’t know,” says Deng of his expe- concentration camp. “Many things were riences since arriving in San José. “If lacking; we were not allowed to leave you look around, you see all different the camp and the food rations were not kinds of people and you find that there enough. Sometimes I went to school are other people like you. Why not you, with hunger because I hadn’t eaten the if other people can make it? It’s a good night before.” hope I see.” Every 15 days, each person was Deng’s indomitable spirit has carried given one kilogram of corn—which him through each day since fleeing the contains roughly the number of calo- attack on his village in Sudan. Lydia ries an average American eats in two Ortega, chair of SJSU’s Department of days. Sometimes people would finish Economics and Deng’s academic advi- their rations within five days and have sor, wanted more for him than to live to wait 10 days for the next ration to day by day. At their first meeting, she come. Teams of 15 would cook and share asked about his career goals and plans, one kilogram of corn each day to avoid but didn’t make any headway. When Deng returned starvation. “All of a sudden it occurred to me that to Sudan, he took in “It was a hardship,” says Deng. “At the concept of planning for the future the life he left behind, least it was safe in the camp because was foreign to him,” says Ortega. “For visiting family in simple there were no attacks.” much of his life, he just had to think homes made of mud Trading the uncertainty of living every day about how not to be dead and straw, watching as a target in southern Sudan for near- that day.” boys fish in a shallow starvation, Deng and thousands like Yet Deng has built a future taking tributary of the Nile him endured unimaginable trials, los- things one day at a time. When sup- River, and walking ing their childhoods in an adult war. port from Catholic Charities expired among “cattle camps” Resettlement was a slow process, with just three months after arriving in the and farms. the first group of boys leaving for the U.S., he found a job at Fry’s Electron- United States in 2001. For Deng, a grown ics and an apartment to share with two man of 23, moving to America meant yet other Sudanese refugees. When the job another unpredictable journey. and the apartment didn’t work out, he accepted lodging from Fr. Noel Senevi- ratne, a retired priest. 16 sjsu washington square fALL 2008
  • 6. “They are very determined,” says Sen- straw, watching boys fish in a shallow And he will do much more. eviratne of Deng and the two others tributary of the Nile River, and walking “I have to pay back the people who who lived in an annex to his San José among “cattle camps” and farms. Seeing paid for the life I have, my education,” home. “They always wanted to somehow the tremendous needs of his village—no he says. “I will pay back my debt by better themselves.” electricity, no sanitary drinking water, doing good for the people who need it After hosting the young men for inadequate medical facilities, and few most. The more we stand up—if we do nearly three years, Seneviratne worked schools or supplies for hundreds of thou- good for other people, we will be suc- with the Santa Clara County Hous- sands of children—was overwhelming cessful. v ing Authority to get Deng and his for Deng. —Jody Ulate ’05 roommates the apartment where they How does one man help hundreds currently live. Deng focused on getting of thousands when he can’t even afford an education, beginning first at DeAnza an operation to remove bullets from College and then transferring to San his sister’s back and knee, wounds left José State in 2005. untreated since the war? “I think Thon has a strong education,” says Ortega. “But he also has wisdom Tomorrow comes from his experiences and an apprecia- He doesn’t do it alone. In 2005, Deng tion for life that will take him far.” co-founded Coalition of the Willing (COW), a non-profit that raises funds “Lost” and found and awareness about ongoing needs in Along with wisdom beyond his years, southern Sudan. The 2005 peace agree- Deng has an unwavering sense of duty ment between northern and southern to those still in Sudan—to family and Sudan gave the south autonomy for six friends he lost decades ago. years, and stipulates that the south will In December 2007, Deng, a freshly vote for either unity or independence in minted U.S. citizen, traveled through 2011. With the world’s eyes on the dev- Sudan’s capitol in the heart of the Mus- astation in the Darfur region in the west, lim-dominated north to go home. After Deng worries about the future of south- arriving in Juba, a city in southern Sudan, ern Sudan during this unstable time. a six-hour bus ride over dusty, unpaved “To think about the future with hope roads returned Deng to his village in Bor might bring the good sense that people To help Deng and Coalition of the Willing get assistance to County for the first time in 20 years. shouldn’t go back to war again,” he says. southern Sudan, visit www.coalitionofwilling.org. “It was hard, it was sad, it was joy- “But many people want to be indepen- ful,” says Deng about reuniting with dent from the north, so there’s hope on sisters Achieu and Ayen, and brother one side and doubt about what’s going Deng Majak Deng. “I felt bad that my to happen.” own brother and sisters didn’t recognize Miles away from home, Deng’s heart me, being away all that time.” is in Sudan. He works as COW’S trea- During the month-long stay, Deng surer. He sends money he earns working took in the life he left behind, visiting part-time at FedEx Kinko’s to Sudan so family in simple homes made of mud and his niece and cousins can go to school. fALL 2008 sjsu Washington square 17