If you saw the African village of Angol where Chol Duang grew up, you’d be hard pressed to imagine him as an international traveler and national broadcast journalist.
“Many people did not get the opportunity to go to school in our area due to the negative attitude towards education back then. Political conflict was also a factor,” Duang said. “My classroom was under a big tree (called Kuel) because there were no classrooms. I wrote on the floor, as there were no books.”
Middle schoolers taught Duang and other youngsters in Nyamlell, a community by today’s South Sudan-Sudan border that was the epicenter for Sudanese civil war predating South Sudan’s 2011 independence.
“I never had a comprehensive early childhood education, meaning I didn’t have a strong knowledge foundation, and this affected my academic pathway in both high school and college years,” Duang said.
Duang beat the odds thanks to perseverance. His late brother, Santo Chan Duang, took him to Uganda as a refugee child for a better education and Duang taught himself reading and writing. He went on to earn an advanced diploma in journalism, the equivalent of an American associate’s degree. Now working for South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation, he is one of 24 young leaders from sub-Saharan Africa spending six weeks at Bridgewater State University through the Mandela Washington Fellowship.
He appreciates the opportunity to connect with Africans and Americans and contribute to world affairs.
“The Mandela Washington Fellowship and Bridgewater have given me a great, great platform,” Duang said. “I am really indebted to Bridgewater because of the connections I’ve gotten. Their advice, encouragement and expertise have given me a new hope toward life.”
Duang, who acknowledges there is much he still needs to learn about his profession, reported from war-torn areas of South Sudan during the country’s five-year civil war and tries to tell harrowing stories of those caught up in the crisis. He was recognized for his conflict reporting in 2016 and is part of a pioneering group of reporters for this emerging country, which is the world’s newest nation.
“I love journalism because it helps you tell stories. I never thought I would succeed to be a journalist and write for a news organization,” he said. “When you tell a story with sincerity and honesty, it changes lives.”
But, Duang’s most powerful story might just be his own.
Back along the Sudan-South Sudan border, Duang improves schooling and talks to today’s children about how he has succeeded. While there have been enhancements, some pupils still learn under the same tree where Duang began his schooling.
“I need to encourage others to believe in themselves because I’m heartbroken every time I see our little brothers and sisters learning under trees, in desperate conditions. I’m a strong advocate of education. I believe knowledge is power,” he said. “There’s nothing more beautiful than realizing your own potential.”
The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by IREX. Bridgewater State University is a sub-grantee of IREX and is implementing a U.S.-based Leadership Institute as a part of the Fellowship. For more information about the Mandela Washington Fellowship, please visit yali.state.gov/mwf.
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