DENG, Simon

Simon DengSimon Aban Deng is a refugee from Sudan and a survivor of child slavery. A native of the Shiluk Kingdom in southern Sudan, Deng spent several years as a domestic slave in northern Sudan.

Born into a large family, Deng was raised as a Christian. His village of Tonga was a peaceful farming community, despite frequent raids by the Sudanese army where they burned huts and scattered livestock. "One of the first things I was told as a child — if the Arab men come, just run for your life," When Deng was eight, the Sudanese army swept through his village. Deng was out watching his family's goats when transport trucks carrying troops suddenly appeared. He and his friends tried to escape, but one was shot in the legs and another in the back. Two blind elders in his village were burned alive in their homes. Deng says, "I thought I was about to die.”

The raid displaced Deng's family and neighbors, who took refuge in the city of Malkal; dozens crammed into one small house. There, Deng offered to help an Arab man carry some belongings to a ship on the nearby Nile River. But the nine-year-old suddenly found himself sailing away, abducted by the man. He was then given to a relative of the kidnapper in the north — as a slave. Deng's master refused to let him return home. They showed him a picture of a man with his feet and hands cut off, and warned him, "If you complain, this is what will happen to you." Deng became their property or "abeed" (black slave) watching their cattle, cleaning their dishes, eating only scraps, sleeping on straw, and enduring regular beatings. Like the majority of families in northern Sudan, his "owners" were Muslim, urging him to convert to Islam and become accepted as their own son. But Deng refused and managed to escape.

Deng went on to work as a messenger in the Sudanese parliament and later 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. In May, 2005 he was invited to speak before the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland. In March, 2006, he launched the Sudan Freedom Walk, trekking 300 miles from UN headquarters in NYC to the Capitol in Washington, DC, to call for an end to slavery and genocide in Sudan. The walk culminated in a meeting at the White House with President Bush. In May 2006, Deng embarked on a fact-finding and humanitarian aid mission in southern Sudan and Darfur, where he met with leading Sudanese officials, including the President of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir.