South Sudanese Refugee Nhial Deng Wins $100K Global Student Prize

He lived a peaceful existence until the age of 11 like every other child on the planet. However, the first Sudanese civil war changed everything. This dreadful upheaval did not deter Nhial Deng. He founded the Refugee Youth Peace Ambassadors initiative in a refugee camp in 2017.

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Over time, he had a good impact on over 20,000 young people in Kakuma and received recognition from important organizations such as the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.

In this context, the 24-year-old South Sudanese refugee was granted the coveted Global Student Prize 2023, which includes a monetary prize of $100,000 USD.

Deng’s extraordinary accomplishments include exploring a variety of projects focusing on peacebuilding, education, and entrepreneurship to assist refugees who share a common reality in healing from their suffering. His work has not only changed the lives of his peers, but it has had a tremendous positive impact on society as a whole.

Deng was picked as the winner of the Global Student Prize 2023 from a pool of approximately 4,000 nominations and applicants from 122 countries around the world. During the United Nations General Assembly week in New York, he accepted this distinguished prize.

Deng’s accomplishment follows that of the 2022 winner, Igor Klymmenko, a 17-year-old Ukrainian student who was acknowledged for building a drone capable of detecting landmines.

The Global Student Prize, a partnership between and the Varkey Foundation, was launched two years ago as a companion to the $1 million Global Teacher Prize. This program aims to highlight the remarkable achievements of students around the world who are generating positive social change.

Candidates must be at least 16 years old and enrolled in an academic institution or training program to be eligible for the prize. Part-time students and those pursuing online courses are included.

Deng’s extraordinary odyssey began with an idyllic upbringing in a western Ethiopian town where his family had taken refuge following the first Sudanese civil war. During his time in the Ethiopian village, he went to school in the mornings and spent his afternoons playing with other youngsters by the river. His father’s little radio became a gathering place for local guys to listen to the news and discuss global affairs. Deng was inspired by these exchanges and began imitating news anchors, which marked the beginning of his ambition to become a journalist.

Deng’s idyllic life was disrupted in 2010 when a militia assaulted his hamlet, forcing him to flee while the village was devastated. After a harrowing two-week trek that included days of walking alone, he arrived at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, where he would spend the next ten years. Tragically, this adventure isolated him from his mother and six siblings for more than a decade, resulting in a tremendous loss he experienced from a young age.

Deng launched the Refugee Youth Peace Ambassadors initiative in the refugee camp in 2017, with a focus on peacebuilding, youth development, and social entrepreneurship. This initiative provided a variety of activities such as workshops, mentoring, athletics, and community discussions that benefited over 20,000 young people in Kakuma.

Notably, it received recognition from groups such as the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth and also acted as a healing space for traumatized young people. Deng expanded his impact in 2021 by founding “SheLeads Kakuma,” a program that promotes gender equality in refugee camps. This initiative, funded by Women Deliver, connects young refugee girls and women with female mentors around the world, developing leadership, advocacy, and mentorship possibilities.

Deng, 24, is now a student at Huron University College in Canada, where she is studying global studies and communications.

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