Until 11, he lived a peaceful life like every child around the world. However, the first Sudanese civil war changed this whole reality. Nhial Deng did not let this tragic turbulence tie him down. In 2017, he established the Refugee Youth Peace Ambassadors initiative within a refugee camp. Over a period of time, he positively impacted over 20,000 young individuals in Kakuma and gained recognition from notable organizations, including the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.
It is against this backdrop the 24-year-old South Sudanese refugee was awarded the prestigious Chegg.org Global Student Prize 2023, which comes with a US $100,000 cash prize.
Deng’s remarkable achievements include pursuing various initiatives focused on peacebuilding, education, and entrepreneurship to enable refugees who share a common reality to heal from their trauma. His work has not only transformed the lives of his peers but has also had a significant positive impact on society at large.
Deng emerged as the winner of the Chegg.org Global Student Prize 2023 after being chosen from a pool of nearly 4,000 nominees and applicants representing 122 countries worldwide. He accepted this prestigious award during UN General Assembly week in New York.
Deng’s achievement follows that of the 2022 winner, 17-year-old Ukrainian student Igor Klymmenko, who was recognized for developing a drone capable of detecting landmines.
The Global Student Prize, a collaboration between Chegg.org and the Varkey Foundation, was introduced two years ago as a counterpart to the $1 million Global Teacher Prize. This initiative aims to spotlight the exceptional efforts of students worldwide who are driving positive change in society.
Eligible candidates for the prize must be at least 16 years old and enrolled in an academic institution or training program. This includes part-time students and those pursuing online courses.
Deng’s remarkable journey began with a peaceful childhood in a western Ethiopian village, where his family had sought refuge after the first Sudanese civil war. During his time in the Ethiopian village, he attended school in the mornings and enjoyed afternoons playing by the river with fellow children. His father’s small radio became a hub for local men to gather, listen to the news, and engage in discussions about global events. Deng, inspired by these interactions, started emulating news anchors, marking the early stages of his aspiration to become a journalist.
In 2010, Deng’s peaceful life was shattered when his village was attacked by a militia, forcing him to flee as the village was destroyed. After a traumatic two-week journey, walking alone for days, he reached the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, where he would reside for the next ten years. Tragically, this journey separated him from his mother and six siblings for over a decade, a profound loss he endured from a very young age.
In 2017, within the refugee camp, Deng established the Refugee Youth Peace Ambassadors initiative, which focused on peacebuilding, youth empowerment, and social entrepreneurship. This initiative provided a range of activities including workshops, mentoring, sports, and community dialogues, positively impacting over 20,000 young individuals in Kakuma.
Notably, it gained recognition from organizations such as the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth and also served as a healing space for young people recovering from trauma. In 2021, Deng furthered his impact by launching “SheLeads Kakuma,” a program promoting gender equality in refugee camps. Supported by a grant from Women Deliver, this initiative connects young refugee girls and women with female mentors worldwide, fostering leadership, advocacy, and mentorship opportunities.
24-year-old Deng is now studying global studies and communications at Huron University College in Canada.