Nhial Deng, a refugee from South Sudan Global Student Prize Winner 2023. Photo: Chegg.Org

A 24-year-old South Sudanese refugee Nhial Deng has been named the winner of the Chegg.org Global Student Prize 2023.

Deng scooped the prize for his work in empowering over 20,000 refugees in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya through peacebuilding, education, and entrepreneurship programmes, as well as creating a safe space for young people to heal from their trauma.

The US$100,000 sister award to the Global Teacher Prize is given to one exceptional student who has made a real impact on learning, the lives of their peers, and on society beyond.

He was selected from almost 4,000 nominations and applications from 122 countries around the world. Nhial accepted his award in New York during UN General Assembly week.

Refugee from childhood

Until the age of 11, Deng’s childhood was relatively peaceful, living in a village in the Gembel a region of western Ethiopia, where his family moved to from Ulang, South Sudan during the first Sudanese civil war.

There, he would go to school in the morning and play in the river with other children in the afternoon, as the award organiser, Chegg.org narrates on its website.

His father owned a radio and men from the neighbourhood would join him in the evenings to listen, analyse the news and discuss world affairs.

This ignited a passion for journalism in Deng who imitated the news anchors whose voices beamed from his father's little radio.

However, one morning in 2010, this life vanished in the space of a few minutes. Armed militia reportedly attacked his village and razed homes to the ground amidst gunshots.

Deng would find himself alone, without family as he fled for safety. Two weeks later, after a traumatic journey, walking hundreds of kilometres, he reached the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, which would become his home for the next decade.

According to Chegg.org, Deng was separated from his mother and six siblings for 12 years – an agonising loss for a child. Through the UNHCR child protection program, he was assigned to a foster family, and found solace and hope at school.

The Kakuma Refugee Camp is in Kenya's Turkana county near the border with South Sudan. Photo: Getty Images

Deng's Impact

Seven years later, while in high school, Deng set up a journalism club and founded the Refugee Youth Peace Ambassadors initiative in 2017, which would go on to impact over 20,000 young people in Kakuma.

The programme focused on peacebuilding, youth empowerment, and social entrepreneurship has been recognized by organizations including the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.

It offers workshops, mentoring sessions, sports activities, and community dialogues. Crucially, it also provides a safe space for young people to heal from their trauma.

In 2021, Deng created SheLeads Kakuma, a leadership, advocacy, and mentorship program for young girls and women to promote gender equality in several refugee camps.

Having secured a grant from global advocacy organization Women Deliver, Deng has managed to connect young refugee girls and women with female mentors worldwide,

When the COVID pandemic struck, he set up a digital awareness campaign to tackle misinformation, focused on credible sources such as the World Health Organization and the Kenyan Ministry of Health.

These efforts helped reach over 40,000 people in Kakuma and Kalobeyei with life-saving information about the virus.Deng also created a Twitter account in the refugee camp to share the experiences of refugees.

Although he has now begun his higher studies at Huron University College, Nhial continues to work on projects to assist life in the camp, such as the Kakuma Book Drive, which aims to mobilize 10,000 textbooks, laptops, and funding for a library and community center.

A plethora of prizes

The Global Student Prize is yet another feather in Deng's hat. He is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Award, the World Vision Hero for Children Courage Award 2023, and the FilmAid Student Award 2021.

His community work in Kakuma has impacted over 20,000 young people, and he currently serves on eight committees and advisory boards, including two United Nations committees.

Deng has stated that he will allocate 50% of the prize money to the construction and sustainable operation of the Kakuma Leadership and Innovation Centre, where a library and innovation hub will be based.

The Varkey Foundation partnered with Chegg.org to launch the Global Student Prize in 2021, a sister award to its $1 million Global Teacher Prize.

It was established to create a powerful new platform that shines a light on the efforts of extraordinary students everywhere who, together, are reshaping our world for the better.

The prize is open to all students who are at least 16 years old and enrolled in an academic institution or training and skills program. Part-time students as well as students enrolled in online courses are also eligible for the prize.

TRT Afrika