Nhial Deng has survived war in Ethiopia and began helping others in Kenyan refugee camp
An international student from Huron University College in London, Ont., has been honoured for his advocacy work with a major cash prize that he plans to reinvest in the Kenyan refugee camp where he spent part of his youth.
Nhial Deng was selected from almost 4,000 applicants from 122 countries to win the Chegg.org Global Student Prize for his work helping thousands of youth and women impacted by war.
Deng was in New York earlier this month to receive the prize.
I had no idea that I was being announced the winner and it was a big surprise, but it was a very special moment, said Deng.
I think my experiences, having gone through war and violence, and then growing up in a refugee camp [set me apart], and thinking about how I can help other young people in the refugee camp find hope and look toward a brighter future.
WATCH | Nhial Deng talks about growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp and starting his advocacy work:
London international student wins $100K Global Student Prize
Nhial Deng, a 24-year-old student at Huron University College in London, Ont., has won the Chegg.org Global Student Prize for his work helping thousands of refugees in Kenya.
In 2010, when Deng was 11, life as he knew it in western Ethiopia was upended by militia storming his small village, forcing him to flee without his family. After a two-week journey, spanning hundreds of kilometres, he arrived at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, where he would live for the next decade.
While there, Deng started a program in 2017 to support peace-building, youth empowerment, and social entrepreneurship. The Refugee Youth Peace Ambassadors initiative has helped over 20,000 youth in Kakuma.
I saw how challenging it was for many kids, given that in the refugee camp, there was very limited access to opportunities that were helping kids be able to look toward a brighter future, he said.
I thought, what could we do about it? So basically what I wanted to do initially was to create a space for kids to just come together, to be happy, to play together, to share their dreams, to share their stories in a peer support group. And that is how it all started.
Deng then went on to establish SheLeads Kakuma in 2021, a leadership, advocacy, and mentorship program for women in several refugee camps, aiming to promote gender equality. When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, Deng also worked to tackle misinformation through a digital awareness campaign that reached more than 40,000 people in Kakuma and nearby Kalobeyei.
When he was 22, Deng moved to Canada and began studying global studies and communications at Huron University College.
I really want to understand how the world works and how countries can come together to find solutions to issues that transcend borders, looking at conflict and war, looking at things like climate change, looking at youth empowerment, looking at gender equality, peace building, said Deng.
So, it's a program that aligned with my dreams and inspiration, and it's been good two years so far.
As for the Global Student Prize, Deng said he will be using half of the money to build a library in Kakuma.
That is something I've wanted to do for a long time, because I love reading a lot, and they have very limited access to books and reading materials in the refugee camp.
The rest of the prize will go toward his established programs to help youth and women.