Dominic Deng Diing, a refugee in the U.S., educates 3,000 children back in South Sudan
Dominic Deng Diing, who escaped the violence in Sudan, raises funds to help schoolchildren there.
In Pictures South Sudan referendum
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Mr. Diing's brief foray into education was cut short when his uncles and brothers died of starvation during the trek, along with thousands of other "Lost Boys of Sudan," children who fled on foot from the civil war that raged for nearly 20 years.
But the significance of the early lessons stuck with Diing, now a resettled refugee living in Buffalo, N.Y. He earned his high school degree in Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya, and later completed undergraduate and master's programs in western New York. He's currently working toward a doctorate degree in education.
Diing is trying to spare more than 3,000 children in South Sudan from his experience. They now attend the two-year-old New Hope Primary School, a project of Diing's Buffalo-based nonprofit group Aid and Care for Africa.
Just 21 teachers and five administrators preside over the school. Students from 22 villages in Diing's home state of Aweil walk miles to reach the school, often with empty stomachs and the fear of meeting wild animals in forests they must cross through.
"We told parents that this is a dangerous situation, that their children could end up being attacked by lions," Diing recalled. "But the parents say, 'My kids staying in the village without education will be just like that, anyway – death.' "
Some 55 percent of the students are orphans, living with foster families. They include 10 of the 34 children Diing sponsors himself and his mother looks after. The remaining 24 live with two of his sisters in Kenya and Uganda, where they can receive care for various ailments.
In total, Diing supports about 50 people aside from his mother, including his deceased father's seven other wives.
"I live a simple life here," says Diing, speaking at a buffet restaurant near his tiny apartment just north of Buffalo's downtown. "But it's the same as my friends do – the little amount we make, we share."
Diing allocates 15 percent of his monthly income to support Aid and Care, for which fundraising has been difficult. He hopes to construct a sister secondary school by 2015 and is aiming to raise $400,000.