Gabriel Bol Deng had a good life.
Until he was 9 or 10 years old, he lived with his parents and eight siblings in the village of Ariang, near the town of Gogrial in the Bhar el Ghazal region of Southern Sudan.
"We were poor, but we were happy," Deng said. "I was happy. I had somebody that cared for me."
That happiness ended in 1987 when Ariang was attacked by Arab militiamen, agents of the government in Khartoum in the northern part of Sudan. The soldiers ravaged the village, just as they had countless others, as part of a conquest for oil and power.
While it might sound like a tale of woe, Deng's story is far from hopeless. That's the message he gave to about 300 ninth-graders at the Liverpool High School Annex on Wednesday Nov. 28. Deng was invited to speak by the school's Global Exchange Club, an organization comprised of exchange students, ESL students and traditional students that looks at global issues. Maureen Tricase is the group's advisor.
"We want to make sure our students know what's going on in the world," Tricase said. "Gabriel has such a great message of hope -- that you can overcome any obstacle and you can persevere. He is the epitome of that message, for sure."
Deng said he speaks at schools for two reasons.
"First is because of the problem of Sudan," he said. "We need to educate people about the ongoing crisis. Second, we're all human beings. We need to learn from one another. I want people -- especially children -- to think beyond their own world, their own horizons, and become global citizens."
Deng also wants students to recognize how fortunate they are to have access to a quality education.
"I want you to see how lucky you are to be in this country and in this school," he told the audience. "In Sudan, we do not have opportunities like this, opportunities for an education and opportunities in life."