"No matter how horrific were the experiences, if there was love and caring on the part of those you came in contact with, that allowed you to come out "whole," and go on with your life with a positive attitude," said Gloria Glantz. "This was clearly demonstrated by Valentino Achak Deng." Gloria Glantz, a child survivor of the Holocaust, sees parallels between the remarkable person Deng has become despite living for years without his family in refugee camps and her own experience with caring strangers. Both had family members victimized by genocide.
Valentino Achak Deng and Frank Ullman who sponsored Deng as a speaker.
Deng, the subject of the book, What is the What, by Dave Eggers, spoke with eloquence and humor before a full Landmark auditorium audience on May 16. He told his story in three parts. Part 1 started on September 11, 2001 when he was supposed to fly to the U.S. from Nigeria as a refugee. He had to wait two weeks. When he reaches Atlanta where he will be settled with the support services of the Lost Boys Foundation, he is helped by Mary Williams who eventually connects him to Dave Eggers. Deng, an 18-year-old when he arrives, has been formally talking to high school students and other audiences during his little free time. He works in retail stores and then for an interior design concern. He tells Williams he needs to write a book and she thinks Eggers would be the perfect author because of his own life experiences.
Keng starts Part 2 with the story of his early life in 1983 when the Sudanese Civil War breaks out. Because he becomes detached from his family during the slaughter he decides to run. Eventually he arrives at refugee camps, first in Ethiopia and then Kenya. In Kenya, he is asked by a teacher to join the drama club, which gives the participants experience in front of audiences. The hidden agenda for training this group of students was to enable them to instruct the refugee population about the dangers of HIV. So he receives training as well on how to present information to audiences. This training has possibly been helpful for his present speaking engagements. He speaks with humor and polish, holding his audience spellbound for over an hour.
In Part 3 Deng describes his mission to help the people of South Sudan, including his village where his parents and some siblings returned and still live. He plans to build a high school and community center in the villages. He wants training for people in the community centers so they will see their girls as valuable assets. All author proceeds from this book will go to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, which he established to serve his mission.
In 10 years of civil war, 2.5 million civilians were killed; 4 million were displaced; one million left the country as refugees. He said he is "speaking as the voice of those with no voice."
"Port Washington is such a caring community that it makes sense that Deng came to speak," Lillian McCormick said. Frank Ullman sponsored this event. Dolphin books staff sold the book at the presentation. To get information about the foundation go to www.valentinoachakdeng.com.