Former child slave speaks to university
Published: Friday, April 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2012 15:04
A small American flag pin saying “Freedom isn’t free” adorned the suit of Simon Aban Deng, a former refugee and child slave from Sudan who spoke in front of a small crowd at the Memorial Union Great Room on Tuesday.
Freedom seemed to be the theme of the evening as Deng recounted the “atrocity” of his time as a child slave for three and a half years. “It is not easy to talk about what happened, especially it is not easy to call yourself a slave,” Deng said. “Slavery is not a badge of honor.”
When Deng was abducted by members of the Sudanese army at age nine, he also witnessed people getting burned alive in his village as well as his friend being shot “in front of my eyes,” as Deng recalls. Deng was then given as a “gift” to an Arab family, where he spent his time as a child slave.
It was here where his “slave masters” mistreated him with rigorous labor, intense beatings and fed him only their leftovers for food. “I ate whatever they left over … I could lick the bones … hoping that tomorrow would be better than today,” Deng said.
He was also not allowed to speak to anyone, which made it impossible to build any sort of relationship with anybody. If he were to engage in conversation, he would have been severely reprimanded: “I was not in the position to interact with anyone,” Deng recalls. “Then I was lazy at doing my work.”
However, when Deng was nearly 13 years old, he luckily managed to escape and eventually moved to the United States.
Once leaving what he called “hell on earth” as a child slave, Deng mentioned that it was not easy to be thrust back into the real world: “The most challenging thing to me was whether I would be accepted in a society,” Deng said. “After I was being considered that I am not good -- that I am a filthy slave man.”
This transition back into society also made it incredibly painful to talk about his experiences: “I promised myself that I would never, ever talk about what happened to me,” Deng said. “I would torture myself.”
However, when Deng eventually came to America and read that his people were being bought and sold into slavery for $10 each, he decided that radical changes needed to occur. “That was a nightmare for me. It took me three nights to fall asleep remembering those bad things,” Deng said.
Deng has since become a human rights activist and has spoken in front of audiences similar to NDSU. He has spoken to the United Nations as well as with former President George W. Bush, which helped ratify change in Sudan. Deng also organized the Sudan Freedom Walk, which helps raise awareness about the atrocities still happening in Sudan.
A few members of Deng’s family sat in the front row of his speech at NDSU, some of which included Deng’s cousin Obwonyo Ajang and Ajang’s two sons, Abew and Alaki.
Obwonyo was fortunate enough to not become a child slave, unlike his cousin, but he also fled to America for the same reason as Deng’s: “I left there because I knew a lot of the stories are true and they happen all over.” Obwonyo said.
It was the first time Obwonyo’s sons Abew, an eighth grader at Cheney Middle school, and Alaki, a sophomore at West Fargo High School, met Deng and it was also their first time hearing the news that Deng was a child slave in Sudan.
“It was surprising … now I want to know him more and talk to him more about this stuff,” Alaki said. “I think I was just lucky to be born here so I would not have to go to that.” Obwonyo rarely spoke to his two sons of the brutality he endured while in Sudan, therefore watching Deng speak about being a child slave was eye opening for the boys.
“Life there is really hard, and [Deng’s experience] explained a lot to me,” Alaki said.