Nhial Deng, 21, fled Ethiopia 10 years ago and has spent the last decade living in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, in a five-room compound with 18 people.

He is dedicated to upskilling, educating and empowering displaced people and their host communities.

 

What do you remember of your childhood in Ethiopia?
School was one of the most important things in my life, because my father believed in the power of education. I enjoyed it a lot, going to school with other kids. We could go for a walk or to the river banks and play. They are the most important memories of my life.

Why did you have to escape your home?
Our village was attacked by militias. People were killed in front of me and houses were burning. We had no choice but to flee. Two of the families I arrived at Kakuma with are from my village, but everyone ran in different directions, including my own family, and I lost contact with them.

Have you got contact with them again now?
Not yet. I’ve tried Red Cross but have not been able to trace them. I’m hopeful I’ll be with them one day.

How has UNHCR helped you?
UNHCR is a symbol of hope to so many people like myself. When you flee a country, you know that if you reach where there is the United Nations, you’ll be able to get food, go to school and have a place to sleep. I found opportunities in Kakuma through UNHCR that have helped rebuild my life.

Nhial Deng is empowering refugees in Kenya

Nhial Deng’s projects are educating and empowering displaced people and their host communities. © Australia for UNHCR

Why is it important for refugees to be educated and reskilled?
Refugees have dreams and aspirations. My dream was to become a journalist and the only way I could do that was through education. Children in the camp tell me that school is more than just a place of learning. When they calculate mathematics and have a teacher in front of the class, they forget the nightmare and focus on the future.

How do you feel about your last 10 years at Kakuma?
When I first came I had lost hope. I was frustrated. I was devastated. Now, my hopes for a brighter future are stronger than my fear of failing. There are so many people I look up to who were once in my shoes and have now made something for their life.

Tell us what you’re doing at the moment?
So many things! Firstly, running my social media marketing business StepUp.One. There are many challenges to get a job here in Kakuma, so StepUp.One takes advantage of the online opportunities to anyone, everywhere in the world.

Most of the night I’m writing my novel and reading non-fiction and biographies of people who inspire me. By day, I’m studying information and communications technology, and media.

I’m also an education consultant for Tech Action Group Global. I manage Project Kakuma, where children from 21 primary schools in the camp learn computer skills taught by over 100 teachers worldwide, through Skype.

And I run a youth led group, Refugee Peace Ambassadors, to help people in the camp overcome their trauma and thrive again. When people have fled, they often have fears and want to avenge. But we have to let go and forgive and improve our home countries. We empower young people for when they return, to rebuild and contribute to their country.

For World Refugee Day this year, UNHCR is saying everyone can make a difference. Why do you think that’s important?

Everyone has a role to play in achieving a more fair, sustainable and peaceful world. Including those often on the sidelines of our societies; refugees, migrants and displaced people. We have witnessed this with coronavirus – refugees are on the frontline helping fight this pandemic.

The first cases of COVID-19 have now been detected in some refugee camps, including Kakuma. Refugees like Nhial are working in their communities to protect their neighbours.
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