IN THE WORDS OF DEBORAH
I am Deborah Nyadeng Atem. I was born in 1997 in Jonglei, South Sudan into a family of 9 members. My father passed away in the year 1999 as a result of civil war. We were then raised up by my mother who practiced small scale farming to provide daily needs. She also carried out chores for people like weeding their farms, cooking in occasions and other regular chores. My mother also served as a midwife severally in the village.
Insecurity became rampant in the village during that time, and many people started migrating to neighbouring countries like Kenya. Women and children would occasionally run to hiding places like pits, dug into the ground as men would remain to protect the land. This led to loss of lives of many and starvation increased. My mother asked for help from our relatives who were also moving to Kenya to help us move with them. By God’s grace, they agreed to help us move to Kenya.
In May 2000, we entered Kenya through Nadapal. We were resettled as refugees in the Kakuma refugee camp. We survived on the aid provided by UNHCR. With my interest in school, I joined St. Gabriel’s mission nursery school. I enjoyed my school like most of the children as we were always given porridge in school which incentivised many kids to attend school. Sadly in 2003, I began getting sick. I started suffering from severe worms, this caused me to violently vomit. This went on for weeks before I began developing boils all over my body. My mother had gone to almost every clinic in the camp but my health was not improving at all. She had nearly lost all hope, until a relative showed up at the camp to visit; hearing of my condition, he agreed to take me for treatment in Kapsabet Nandi County in Central Kenya, where his family lived.
In January 2004, I left with him, whom I was told was my uncle. In Kapsabet, I went under treatment for months. Glory to God, I started getting better, my condition began to improve. My uncle’s kids would go to school and I would be left at home. At the house, I did some house chores and afterwards, I would go through the kids’ books left in the house with a lot of interest to learn. Seeing my interest in school, my uncle decided to enroll me in a nearby public primary school in 2005. I attended Township public primary. Ini 2011, I was enrolled in a private school, Chrisco Academy. I did not take that opportunity for granted, I studied very hard and registered for my primary school certificate examinations. In 2012, I sat for my Kenya Certificate of Primary education and was ranked the second highest in my school with an outstanding “A” grade.
My mother and my other siblings including my elder brothers had moved back to South Sudan in 2007, so I could only hear from them once in a while. In 2013, war broke out in South Sudan and my uncle lost a lot of his properties. I nearly dropped out of school due to a lack of funds for school fees, but God-willing, I did not. I instead was enrolled in a cheap day secondary school which was very far from where we lived. I faced hardship as I had to wake up very early, around 4:00AM every day and walk about a kilometer to my school in order to be there on time for morning preps. Knowing where I came from, I did not despair, but worked harder. In 2016, I sat for my Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education and scored a mean grade of “B”. The war that broke out again in 2016 had caused my uncle to lose his job in South Sudan. He had no other means of providing for his family. His family had to move to the refugee camp. We moved back to Kakuma the following January. Life on the other hand was not favorable for my family members in South Sudan. My elder sister, who had been married with three children came back to Kakuma accompanied by my two younger sisters. We re-registered ourselves in the camp. I have not been able to join a university after high school. I have received emails from many universities in Nairobi, Kenya, but I have no means to fund my studies.
I cannot go back to my country due to rampant insecurity. Unemployment is also at an all time high and I may not be able to secure a job to support my family or play any constructive role in the community. I am the fifth child in my family and the only one who has finished high school. All this was by God’s grace, who has shone a ray of light on my path. Even though I am back here in Kakuma, I have not lost hope of being able to further my studies one day.
Currently, I am doing voluntary teaching in Malakal primary school, where I teach C.R.E and English. I believe in doing good to others in order to develop our community. My siblings are looking up to me to bring a smile to their faces one day. With determination, I pray for God to touch the heart of any person out there who would be willing to sponsor my studies. I promise to deliver good results. I would love to further my studies not only to help myself and my family but also to be able to reach out to the society in the same way one day, having seen the hardships faced by our people. I want to reach back to my community and be a positive change-maker.
WAR WAS HOW GOY’S LIFE BEGAN.
His parents had both fled gunfire and flames in villages hundreds of miles apart. And it was in a refugee camp, among the other survivors, that they first met.
They fell in love. They married. And in the camp they gave birth to five children—the youngest was Goy.
Peace came and a new home with it. But Goy only ever knew peace and home as fragile things. When he was six years old, violence once more sent the family fleeing Sudan. They were a larger family now—Goy’s baby brother just three years old. And when they fled they returned to a life in a refugee camp, all of them together, grateful that they had all survived unscathed.
But there is a violence to war beyond soldiers and bullets. A different enemy had followed them across the border—hunger.
The conflict brought famine to Sudan and the outlying camps. After surviving war, Goy’s family and tens of thousands of other refugees now faced starvation. During those days upon days without food, Goy’s body started to change. His thinning limbs began to bend in strange ways. It became more and more difficult for him to walk. After six months, Goy could barely stand.
His parents brought Goy to a doctor in the camp, where they learned that malnutrition had created an abnormality in Goy’s brain that left him partially paralyzed.
They were devastated.
All they had wanted as parents was to protect their children from war. And here it felt as though the bloodshed and brutality chased after them still, attacking now from within, seeping into the very bones of their child.
BUT IN THE DAYS AHEAD, GOY FOUND AN ESCAPE.
With his body crippled, Goy discovered a new kind of freedom in reading—in words that could take him where his body couldn’t. His father would find all the books he could in the camp, borrow and beg and bring them to him. In books, Goy found a world away from war and hunger. He found a life outside of the camp and a dream for what his own life could become.
Goy is now 10 years old. He has regained some of his strength to walk again. Today, his siblings attend the only school their family can afford—a free, government-run school over an hour’s walk away. But for Goy, in his condition, this walk is significantly longer. He joins his siblings when he can, but the difficulty and pain of the walk there and back again is too much for Goy to do every day. And on top of this, the school itself is underfunded and understaffed, and the bits and pieces of education he can receive there are significantly lacking.
There is another school—a private institution, well-funded with qualified teachers, and close enough to Goy’s home that he could walk there every day. Goy dreams of attending this school, of learning as much as he can from the teachers, and of one day becoming a teacher himself. His goal is that one day he may bring the joy of reading into other children’s lives. He wants to show them the possibilities he himself found beyond Sudan and the camps along its borders, in the boundless space between the covers of his books.
With your help, he can start on that journey today and take the first step toward a brighter future and a better life.
DUANY WAS 10 YEARS OLD WHEN HIS CHILDHOOD WAS STOLEN FROM HIM.
He had already survived the attack on his town, when government forces came with their machine guns rattling before dawn and sent Duany and his brothers fleeing from their beds in different directions. He had survived the month-long journey that followed, when he walked without shoes and without family to safer land across the border of Ethiopia. He had survived night after night in the Ethiopian refugee camp, where he was put into a tent with the other motherless boys and awoke each morning to more of them missing around him. But even there, so far from his home, there was a chance for school and games with the other children and a lingering hope to see his brothers again. Until one night, during a dinner of rations, the men with guns came for him too.
The men were rebel fighters in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, gathering boys to become child soldiers in the Sudanese civil war. Duany was taken to a military training camp, where he was taught how to fight and how to endure days without food.
After a few months of training, he was given an AK-47 and sent with the other children to fight in Sudan.
Duany and the other armed children, all stolen from refugee camps, were called the Red Army. They were marched from town to town, fighting battalions of grown, heavily-armed men. At each town, Duany saw countless boys gunned down around him. For the rebel fighters in charge, these battles were about reclaiming the towns from government control. For Duany and the other children, they were about survival. A victory over a town meant food and blankets and clothes to scavenge from the wreckage. It meant an end to their hunger.
SIX YEARS INTO THE FIGHTING, DUANY’S FATHER FOUND HIM ON THE FRONTLINE.
It was the first time Duany had seen family since the war began. Duany’s father was a soldier himself—once in Sudan’s government army, but now a major for the rebel forces. He had been searching for months, sending word through the ranks and the battalions of child soldiers scattered across Sudan, and at last found Duany’s encampment outside Dimma, in the aftermath of battle. Duany’s father came to tell him that his older brother Odor was dead. Like Duany, Odor had been fighting in the war. His battalion was caught in gunfire on the other side of Sudan when Odor was shot. Duany was now the eldest surviving son in the family. His father begged Duany’s officers to release him, so that he and their bloodline may survive, but they refused.
Duany’s father did not put up a fight with the officers. Instead, he took his son aside and quietly told him to run. There was no future there. There was nothing but bloodshed and death. If Duany was to have some life at all, he needed to find a place beyond these borders where he could live in peace and go to school. These were the last words Duany’s father spoke to him before walking off to his own place in the war.
Duany thought about those words for the next six years. And for all those years, he planned his escape. When his battalion shifted to fighting in Kapoeta, near the wilds of the Boma forests, Duany had his chance. He and three fellow soldiers began burying food rations, little by little, in the earth. When enough was gathered to last them the journey to the border, they left their guns behind, took their food and water, and fled in the night.
Soldiers were sent chasing after them. In daylight, Duany and the boys hid in the cover of trees and riverbeds. At night they ran through the darkness. They feared the lions that prowled the region. Even the civilians there, sympathetic to the government, were a threat—they would turn any rebels into the army for execution. So Duany and the boys pressed on, choosing the lion hunting grounds over the towns. And after three long nights, they at last made it across the border, leaving the soldiers, the spies, and the lions behind them.
DUANY WAS 22 YEARS OLD. HE HAD BEEN AT WAR FOR TWELVE YEARS.
In Ethiopia, Duany went to primary school alongside young children and a few other Sudanese men who had also lost years to the fighting. He learned quickly and worked hard and earned himself a scholarship to go to high school. He continued to study with everything he had, determined to keep his promise to his father and himself of making a new life.
After high school, he moved to stay with his cousin in Nairobi, Kenya, in the hopes of pursuing a degree, but it was there that everything changed again.
Duany was attacked on the street by thugs, who cut off his hand at the wrist with a machete and ran off with what little money he had. Duany felt his life crashing to a halt. In the hospital, Duany became overwhelmed with depression and tried to climb out the window to his death.
Frightened by Duany’s suicidal thoughts, his cousin scraped enough money together to hire a therapist to council him. And for the first time in his life, Duany opened up about the horrors he had witnessed as a child at war.
Through his therapy, Duany found a will to live again. He came to terms with his past and the memories that still haunted him. And he discovered the true power of the human mind—and the healing nature of opening up and confronting the traumas that can live on inside of it.
It set him free.
He knew then what he wanted to become. Duany decided to pursue a degree in psychology and become a therapist himself. He wanted to help others overcome their own trauma. He wanted to help his fellow soldiers who had endured the same hell. He wanted to help all the children who had had their families and their futures and their childhood stolen by war.
MARTHA AND NYAMAL’S STORY
How two sisters saved each other from war
THEY WERE AT SCHOOL WHEN THE WAR CAME.
Nyamal was old enough to remember the last time the soldiers attacked their village—barging into their home in the night and killing their father as the family lay in bed. But her sister Martha was just a baby then. She had no memory of fleeing with their mother that night. No memory of their aunt, who died from wounds as they walked through the darkness, leaving her 8-month-old child in Nyamal’s arms. No memory of the journey that led them to this life. But this time, Martha would remember.
Children scattered, screaming, as Martha and Nyamal took cover behind the school with some of the others—gunfire echoing from the village. Their mother and siblings and little cousin were somewhere in that distant clutter of huts and houses. But their teachers told them it wasn’t safe to go back. So Nyamal and Martha followed them away from the gunfire, out into the bush.
For days on end, they walked. Martha was just six years old then. She cried and tugged at her sister and eventually refused to go on. She wanted her mother. Nyamal told her their mother went ahead of them—they had to keep going to catch her.
THIS WAS THE LIE THAT KEPT MARTHA ALIVE.
When she was too tired and slow and the others moved on without them, it was Nyamal’s lie that got her to stand and walk again. It was all that kept her on her feet for the month it took them to reach Juba—a city turned evacuation zone. It was what convinced her to follow Nyamal onto the truck, packed with starving bodies, bound for the border. And as they tumbled in the cargo hold for four endless days—the rough terrain shaking them against metal and bone—it was the lie that kept her looking to the road ahead.
They crossed the border and were placed in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. And it was there, somehow, that the lie came true.
After searching and speaking their names to anyone who would listen, their mother learned that the girls had been put onto a truck bound for that very camp. Their mother was there with their young sisters and the little cousin that Nyamal had carried away from the gunfire years before. They were together again. All of them. They had survived.
But it was not the last they saw of war.
When the violence died down, South Sudan had broken from the north to become its own nation. Martha, Nyamal, and their family returned to an infant country finding its way. Their mother trained to become a soldier for their new nation’s army and the girls enrolled in school.
“Being in school can change your life,” their mother told them. Nyamal took those words to heart and poured herself into her studies. But Martha was a different story.
She refused to go to class. If her mother forced her to go, Martha would get into fist fights with the other students until she was sent home.
“Don’t you want to go to school?” Nyamal asked. Martha shook her head. When Nyamal asked her why, Martha finally looked at her and said:
“What if we can’t come back?”
They were at school when the last war broke out. To Martha, school was still that place—where your mother could be taken from you, where the whole world could turn over.
Nyamal could not promise her it wouldn’t happen again. All she could do was go to school herself, every day. And come back home smiling at the end of it.
Martha would ask Nyamal what she was smiling about, and Nyamal told her only that she’d have to come to school to find out.
After weeks of this, Martha, brimming with curiosity, started following her sister to class. At the end of the first day, Martha gave Nyamal an accusing look, telling her she didn’t see anything to smile about.
Nyamal shrugged, “I guess you didn’t see it yet. You’ll have to come back.”
So Martha did, again and again, finding a little more courage with each day. Until eventually, she completed primary school and told her mother she wanted to go to secondary. Their mother was thrilled.
BUT THIS TIME, THE WORLD WOULD TURN OVER IN THE NIGHT.
A soldier herself now, their mother was stationed in the local prison that night. And the girls awoke alone to the gunfire outside. Their neighbor, a pastor, helped the girls escape, and Nyamal and Martha took their sisters and fled.
The president of South Sudan had declared war on the ethnic tribe of his political rival. Nyamal and Martha and their family belonged to the rival’s tribe. This meant their mother was a soldier in an army that was now hunting her and her people.
They would not see their mother again.
Once again, the girls made their way out of the country. This time, they would not return.
They were put in the Dadaab refugee camp in northeast Kenya. There, Nyamal started working for the UN as a counselor for victims of gender-based violence. Her whole life, Nyamal had seen in her mother what it meant to be a strong woman. She herself had been looking after her sisters and the other young girls in her family before she was big enough to hold them. She wanted to do the same for other young women, for those who did not have someone to look after them, to protect them.
Nyamal and other counselors would receive word of an incident in the camp—a husband abusing his wife, a father abusing his daughter, a rape. Each counselor would then set out alone to find the woman or girl, document the incident, and bring her to medical help and safety. It was difficult work, and Nyamal could feel a rising tide of animosity around her—from the abusive husbands and fathers, from men offended by a woman interfering in their affairs.
ONE NIGHT, THREE MEN CAME LOOKING FOR HER.
Martha awoke to a machete against her throat and harsh whispers asking for her sister. Martha told the men Nyamal was not there. It was the truth—she was away at a training course for her counseling work. The men faltered. Martha’s young sisters were waking now, asking what was happening. One started to cry. Martha told them to go back to sleep. The men yelled at them to shut up. They grabbed Martha. “This is for your sister,” they told her before they pinned her to the ground and raped her.
It wasn’t until she returned days later that Nyamal discovered what had happened. She knew she needed to get the girls out of the camp immediately. She needed to get Martha medical help. It wasn’t safe for any of them there.
Through her connections at the UN, Nyamal managed to locate an apartment they could move to in Nairobi. As soon as she could, she gathered Martha and the girls and fled the camp.
But still Martha was overcome with shame and fear. She refused to go to the doctor. She was afraid she had been infected with HIV.
SHE WAS AFRAID TO LEARN IT WAS TRUE.
Nyamal felt helpless. She had counseled many rape victims through her work, but this was her sister. It was painful to face the reality of what happened. But the reality became all too clear as Martha’s belly grew. She was pregnant.
The morning after they discovered this, Martha watched Nyamal leave the house, just as she had every other day—to sell things in the market and bring home food for her and their sisters. And at the end of that day, despite everything, Nyamal gave Martha a smile when she walked back in the door.
It reminded Martha of Nyamal’s smile all those years ago, when the older sister coaxed the younger to school.
Martha had thought back then it was another of her lies—and maybe it was, even now. It was the most difficult lie she could tell. It was courage in the face of fear. It was hope in the face of uncertainty. This was the lie she told as they wandered across Sudan.
And Martha knew all too well, Nyamal’s lies were the kind that come true.
Martha got tested and discovered she does not have HIV. Today, she and Nyamal live together in Nairobi with their sisters and her healthy newborn boy, Bahati—meaning “luck.”
Nyamal has a full scholarship to university, studying journalism in order to become a force for truth in her part of the world. And Martha hopes to once again follow in her footsteps. Her dream is to study law to help bring justice to those who cannot fight for it themselves. She has chosen a school close by where she will continue her studies without knowing when that day will come.
With your help, that day will come soon. Our education program provides scholarships for refugees like Martha and her sisters who have been displaced by the violence in Sudan.
Support our work today, and help make that dream, and that hope, come true.