Travels from: New York City
Simon Aban Deng is a survivor of child slavery and one of today's most courageous advocates for peace and reconciliation in South Sudan, and an end to slavery and genocide in Sudan.
Deng was born into a large family in the Shiluk Kingdom in southern Sudan and raised as a Christian. His village of Tonga was a peaceful farming community, despite frequent raids by the Sudanese army. When he was a boy, Deng was out watching his family's goats when transport trucks carrying troops suddenly appeared. The raid displaced his 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 9-year-old suddenly found himself sailing away, abducted by the man. Deng was then given to a relative of the kidnapper in the north—as a slave. Deng's master, Mahmed Ahmed, and his wife Amna refused to let him return home. They showed him a picture of a man with his feet and hands cut off and warned him that, if he complained, this is what would happen to him.
Deng became their property, watching their cattle, cleaning their dishes, eating only scraps, sleeping on straw, and enduring regular beatings. His masters called him "abeed" (black slave). Like the majority of families in northern Sudan, Deng's "owners" were Muslim, and they urged him to convert to Islam and become accepted as their own son. But Deng refused and managed to escape after three years.
As an adult, Deng worked as a messenger in the Sudanese parliament and later became a national swimming champion and activist—advocating against injustices perpetrated against Sudanese Africans in Khartoum.
Deng later applied for political asylum in the U.S. and today is an American citizen, working as a lifeguard and activist. Deng has become a tireless 'voice for the voiceless.' In March, 2006, he launched the Sudan Freedom Walk, trekking 300 miles from United Nations headquarters in New York City to the Capitol in Washington, D.C., to call for an end to slavery and genocide in Sudan. The walk culminated in a meeting at the White House with President Bush. Deng created a European version of the Walk later that year and walked from Brussels to The Hague calling on the International Criminal Court to press charges against the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, for war crimes. The Sudan Freedom Walk returned in the fall of 2010 with Deng advocating for a free and fair vote for southern Sudanese independence.
In 2011, the Republic of South Sudan achieved independence and became the world's newest country. But since 2013, the country has been rocked by brutal internal conflict, resulting in countless deaths and starvation.
In 2015, Deng staged a Hunger Strike for South Sudan outside the White House, calling on the U.S. government to play a more active role in supporting peace in South Sudan. The hunger strike lasted 45 days and helped prompt President Obama's trip to the African Union in Ethiopia.
Deng has addressed audiences across the nation and around the world. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the ADL's Heroes Against Hate (2006) and U.N. Watch's Freedom Award (2011). He has spoken alongside notables and dignitaries, such as George Clooney, Gloria Steinem, and the late Elie Wiesel and Ed Koch.