Thursday was move-out day from Deng’s dorm, and Deng was sifting through his belongings. There was the bright green T-shirt, given by a friend, that proclaimed “Don’t talk to me if my headphones are in.” The Dan Brown novels Deng bought after seeing a History Channel special on “The Da Vinci Code.”
In about 24 hours, Deng would board a flight to South Sudan, a homeland he hadn’t seen in two decades.
A scholarship created by Faber and other GW students had allowed Deng to attend the university for free. He arrived never having experienced American culture. Scanty American clothing surprised him. The fact that students had brought him to the country — not wise, old, rich men — fascinated him.
Now that he has earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and economics, Deng, 26, is heading home. He knows he can help fix the problems that plague his country. He’s just not certain how. Deng said he would look for a job, preferably one in government, or possibly at a nongovernmental organization.
“I can say I’m not the same as when I came, because I’ve learned a lot,” Deng said. The experience made possible by the scholarship “has given me a better way to look at things, a better way to see what has been applied somewhere else and see how it can be applied in my local area.”
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Room 729 in GW’s Mitchell Hall is cramped. An old JVC television sits on a wooden chest of drawers next to a wooden desk. A blue GW mug is filled with odds and ends — change, a half-finished box of orange Tic Tacs, Elmer’s Glue.
Nearly every surface in the room is covered with Deng’s books. “I only do three things,” Deng said, smiling and counting on his fingers. “Read, eat and sleep.”
“And write,” Faber added. Deng nods.
Faber opens an old blue suitcase he had lent Deng years ago. From inside, he pulls a box filled with stacks of business cards and bookmarks advertising a textbook in the Dinka language Deng had written two years ago — the first of its kind in the language of the biggest tribe of South Sudan, Deng said. “He spent an entire summer. That was basically a huge project designing this textbook,” Faber said.
In 2006, a few GW students — including Faber — started a group they called Banaa to bring long-term change to Sudan by educating Sudanese students. They were concerned about the effects of the civil war there. In Arabic, banaa means to build or create.
The next year, they put out a call for scholarship applications through more than 2,000 contacts working in Sudan. They got 170 responses. The pool was narrowed down until Deng became Banaa’s first scholar.
It cost about $325,000 to finance Deng’s stay in the United States — including room and board, tuition, a stipend and a travel allowance, Faber said. The financing, secured by Banaa, came from GW and from private donations and grants. Faber said GW waived requirements for TOEFL — an English proficiency test — and SAT scores for Banaa scholars.