I would say God blesses people to enable them bless others. My life is a product of such cyclic good fortunes. I am Dhieu Mayom Deng, former refugee from Uganda who currently lives in Toronto as a permanent resident. I left my country of origin, South Sudan in 2015 due to the 2013 civil war crises. Being a last born in an extended family that was nurtured and raised by a widowed mother from the 1990s didn’t make me any better as a refugee. We faced many challenges like others in the camps sadly to the extent that three lovely kids of my brother died due to simple illnesses. As an individual and a passionate student, I was always tormented by the fact that I had no opportunity to further my studies. Luckily though, the Student Refugee Program (SRP) took away my fears and blessed my life!
I was an exceptional student and because of that schools offered me bursaries throughout my high school years.
I was always the top of my classes from elementary school, and to see my classmates join campuses while I was stuck was not easy for me after my senior six. I did not lose hope as I kept myself busy teaching, tutoring and mentoring students throughout West Nile region. I also often used to go to various universities and collect study materials while I illegally attended lectures with my friends. I taught all kinds of students from nursery kids to college students, sometimes in our living room at my cousin’s home in koboko. I was in Maji refugee camp in Adjumani district teaching nursery kids at a school we opened as part of the church there when a friend told me how he applied for Student Refugee Program and missed out after oral interviews.
This was my second time hearing about SRP, a friend from Rhino camp had called me in 2018 while I was teaching Senior 6 and Senior 4 students at Pokea seminary in Arua district (I was paid and used it to support my family), but the deadline had already passed. I tried many scholarships and even went far to write the names of my clan members and correlated their personal responsibilities and estimated salaries to determine how much support I needed from each for my tuition. I then asked permission from my brothers that I was going to talk to our clan uncle because I needed my tuition to be fundraised in place of my future marriage clan contributions. I badly needed school first and they would be free not to contribute for my marriage later, but they dismissed me with hopes to take me to school soon.
Luckily however, when SRP called for applications the second time, I rushed and was fortunate to be among the students who arrived in Canada in 2020 during the winter.
I currently pursue an honors bilingual undergraduate degree in Biology at York University, Glendon campus (French as second language). I plan to study Pharmacy in the next few years, God willing. I can boldly say that Canada is the best place for a refugee and students of my caliber. We shall always be grateful to God for such excellent opportunities.
When I arrived in Canada, the reception I received from my local committee made me feel like I was still with my siblings. They were so warm welcoming, and my transition was smoothened when I got in touch with my cousins (I had never known) who introduced me to many things. There are now working individuals but were former WUSC students from Kenya. This is a habit that the sponsoring groups in-build among WUSC students, to always look after their brothers and sisters who come after them. I find life in Canada fair although there are moments of solitude and mental trips that occasionally tip into our lives.
I love being here because it enables me to learn so much from the technology, civilization, social interactions, and inclusive diversity. My classes were not challenging during the winter although online learning was not my favorite. I had a full-time job at my university over my summertime and I was able to support my family. I also run a personal business initiative with a friend in Uganda with greater hopes for the future. I co-founded an association in 2015 with 14 other brilliant friends among who four are currently sponsored by WIU and four of us sponsored by SRP. Others are under MasterCard Foundation, and we live in different countries including one in India and three in South Sudan. We lobby for bursaries and scholarships to academically talented students, mentor, and tutor and provide scholastics materials to students under our care.
We used to contribute moneys to facilitate these activities from the little our parents gave us and now from part of our support from our sponsors, with a motto “leave your name as a mark” by changing someone’s life. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we took our mentorship programs and tutorials online (WhatsApp group and zoom) but with requests from many of our former students, mentees and friends who came to Canada under SRP with us, we registered Dongriin Foundation as a Community Based Organization to cater for student matters on a wider scale in Uganda focusing mainly on refugees and girl-children. Our beloved friends, the SRP students from Uganda came up with the initiative to be contributing “Student Aid Fund-Diaspora” from their little support to facilitate larger projects of such an organization for the start-up and as part of their giving back to their communities even when they are students.
I was deeply moved by their dreams and ideas, and we did all that was humanly possible to register as a CBO in koboko district. They will bless many students’ lives in the camps in the next few years, I am certainly hopeful. This is where our gratitude or words of appreciation may not be enough when asked how SRP, or how WIU has impacted our lives. It can only be proven in the cyclic chain of blessing innocent lives to continue blessing more lives and uplifting their families and communities.
Being a refugee is not a handicap, for no one chooses to be a refugee. There is always hope for better life if we keep praying to God/Allah. It is no doubt that SRP does what it intends to do exposing us (refugee students) to more opportunities, empowering us to live independent lives and be able to support our families and communities. The local committees who are always mentoring and enabling us to transition do a greater job. Without them, SRP would not be as effective because students would inevitably go through stress and trauma because of cultural shock.