By Nhial Deng
1) Tell us about yourself
My name is Nhial Deng, I was born in 1999 in Itang, Ethiopia. My father originally comes from South Sudan and moved to Ethiopia more than five decades ago during the Sudan Civil War. As a child, my dream was to become a journalist and education was a very crucial aspect of my childhood. I want to be an artist and witness, who can distill the beauty and mayhem that surrounds us. I was born into a family that didn’t have ‘much’ but life was very enjoyable and I always had a smile on my face, until one day when our village was stormed by armed militia and I had to find my way to Kakuma Refugee Camp. I can still remember that fateful day very well - I was lost, devastated, and frustrated. My activism developed as a result of what I went through in my home country and my experiences as a refugee in Kenya. I have been using my voice intensely to advocate for refugee youth with the belief that young displaced people should have access to quality education, employment, and entrepreneurial opportunities, not just handouts and aid.
2) What are the main challenges that you face as a refugee?
Life in Kakuma is full of challenges, but I also found hope in education. I arrived as an unaccompanied minor at a very young age and I had to move in with a foster family. I was entirely dependent on my foster family and the aid agencies in the camp for everything. I was very happy to be enrolled in a nearby primary school. This gave me an opportunity to forget the brutal scenes of violence I had witnessed back in my home country and think about my future instead. School was the symbol of a future filled with hope for me and most of my schoolmates. After graduating from high school, I took every single opportunity that came my way to further my studies and I am currently enrolled in 2 courses.
3) What encouraged you to become active in your community?
Today, there are more than 70 million displaced people across the globe. The majority of them are children and youth with dreams and aspirations. What encouraged me to be active in my community is the fact that many of us are able to triumph over our trauma, rebuild our lives, and thrive again. As much as there are images of suffering and devastation, there are also stories of resilience, hope, and victory, including my own story, which gives me hope to keep moving forward towards better days, every single day. To young displaced person like myself living a protracted situation with very limited opportunities, hope is the only thing that keeps us moving. I have been inspired by several people who were once refugees such as Ilhan Omar, Emmanuel Jal, and Emi Mahmoud to believe in my inner spirit, to overcome challenges and thrive again.
4) Are you involved in any projects to do with refugee challenges?
After finishing high school, together with a group of young people in my community we founded the” Refugee Youth Peace Ambassadors” to promote peace in our community and instill a sense of ethical leadership and social entrepreneurship in young people. I also volunteer part-time as Head of the Alumni Association at the URISE Initiative for Africa, a community-based organization in Kakuma. The Alumni Association is a vibrant, multicultural community of social entrepreneurs and peacebuilders. In March 2019, I was invited by Sky School (Amala) to join their Youth Advisory Group, a group of young displaced people which helps Amala ensure its work is informed by the voices of the people they serve. Amala is a global high school for refugees with its main office in London, and programmes in six different locations across the world. I’m also a Consultant for Project Kakuma (Take Action Global) which aims to provide quality education to children in the camp and empower youth with digital skills.
5) How do you use your voice to talk about the challenges of refugees?
I always use every moment to help amplify the voices of refugee youth, and our right to a future filled with hope. I’m a certified social media marketing consultant and I use social media to change how people think about refugees. I have used my voice on several occasions to engage with policymakers and institutions that dominate the world of the displaced. I have been hosted by the Head of the European Union Delegation to Kenya and engaged among others with UNHCR, the US State Department Bureau of Population, refugees and migrants. Currently, I’m a ONE Champion for East Africa. ONE advocates and campaigns on education, gender, health, agriculture, and transparency as a means to fight poverty. I support ONE’s advocacy in East Africa and the African Union and ensure the voices of refugee youth in the region are incorporated in our work.
6) Why do you think a conference like “Amplify Now!” is important?
To me, a conference like Amplify Now is very important because I believe this is an opportunity for refugee youth like myself to make sure our voices are heard in global conversations about issues that affect us. We don’t want pre designed things; we want everyone to co-create solutions with us. Every single discussion about refugees should have refugees at the table as active participants and contributors. I also feel this is an opportunity for the world to make sure we have access to opportunities that recognize our talents, dreams, and aspirations. In the last few years, there has been a huge rise in refugee representation in global events. UNHCR plays a critical role in supporting refugees’ presence in these forums, including the Global Refugee Forum. 78 representatives was a good start, however, this number should be doubled or tripled during the next Global Refugee Forum. Ideally, there should be nothing about us without us! Amplify Now!