GIP hosts Alphonsion Deng, one of the Lost Boys from Sudan

By Thibeaux Hirsh '21 and Rafa Kaye-Lew '21

Poly students and faculty recently had the opportunity to learn from Alphonsion Deng, co-author of the award-winning novels “They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky” and “Disturbed in Their Nests.” He shared his story as a Sudanese refugee adapting to life in the United States. Additionally, Joseph Jok, case manager of the International Rescue Committee and South Sudanese Refugee, spoke to the community about Sudan’s controversial history and political climate.

In an Upper School assembly, Jok spoke about Sudan’s past and how it was impacted by British colonial rule resulting in the unstable socio-economic and political environment that Deng grew up in. Deng followed with a handful of moving stories about his experience as a refugee moving from Sudan to the U.S. A smaller group of students was given the chance to eat lunch with both guests, during which they discussed the process of Deng's writing in more depth.

Deng referenced his beloved friend and colleague, Judy A. Bernstein. Bernstein played a crucial role in providing Deng with a safe and fulfilling life in the United States, as well as contributing toward pioneering his writing career which led to him being credited as a co-author on both of his books. Bernstein and Deng remain very close; Deng considers Bernstein “part of his family.” Despite the difficulties he has faced throughout his life, Deng’s charisma and exuberance for all that life offers are inspiring. Upper School Librarian Alejandra Alfaro commented, “Deng's visit to Poly was full of humor and hope. He told stories of his nine years at a refugee camp and his experience getting stuck in an airplane bathroom! Despite, the many challenges Deng faced, he never once shared feelings of resentment or disillusionment. Instead, he emphasized the importance of giving and receiving help. This, along with his message of serving others, was what I found most impactful about his visit."

That afternoon, Deng and Jok spoke to second-graders, teaching them about Dinka culture and language, before moving on to Middle Schoolers, who were treated to a storytelling assembly. Later that evening, Poly parents and students were joined by the wider Pasadena community in a program featuring Deng and Jok for a reading and discussion about the author’s second book.

During the evening program, Kate S. '20 and Deng read a chapter from “Disturbed in Their Nests." Interactions with Deng and Jok throughout the day left the Poly community with a wholesome perspective on the lives of Sudanese immigrants and South Sudanese culture.
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