Theirworld youth activist wins Global Student Prize

Global Youth Ambassador Nhial Deng receives the Global Student Prize from former US President Bill Clinton

Global Youth Ambassadors

Nhial Deng - recognised for his amazing work in a Kenyan refugee camp - is the second of our Global Youth Ambassadors to receive the prestigious award and $100,000 prize money.

For the second time in three years, the winner of the prestigious $100,000 Global Student Prize is one of Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassadors.

Nhial Deng has empowered more than 20,000 refugees in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya through peacebuilding, education and entrepreneurship programmes. He also created a safe space for young people to heal from their trauma.

Nhial, 24, was chosen from almost 4,000 nominations from 122 countries and accepted his award in New York during the United Nations General Assembly. The Global Student Prize is given to one exceptional person who has made a major impact on learning, the lives of their peers and on society beyond.

The organisers said Nhial “has shown tremendous courage to continue fighting for a better future – not just for himself but for thousands like him”.

Nhial spent almost half his life in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. He arrived alone aged 11 after fleeing his home in western Ethiopia following an armed militia attack that burned his village to the ground. He was separated from his South Sudanese parents – who had moved to Ethiopia – and six siblings for 12 years.

Through a UN child protection programme, he was fostered and found hope at school, where he set up a journalism club. He also launched the Refugee Youth Peace Ambassadors, a youth-led initiative working on peacebuilding, youth empowerment and social entrepreneurship.

Nhial paid tribute to the education he received at Kakuma camp. He told the Guardian: “I felt at home when I started going to school. The school was more than a place of learning for me – it was a place where I was able to find solace, where I was able to find hope, where I was able to find healing.

After high school, Nhial relied mainly on his smartphone to take free online courses on subjects such as peace and conflict, human rights, international affairs, English and journalism.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, he set up a digital awareness campaign to tackle misinformation – reaching more than 40,000 people with credible and life-saving information. He also created a Twitter account in the camp to share the experiences of refugees.

Nhial’s recognition comes two years after another Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador, Jeremiah Thoronka, was the winner of the first Global Student Prize. After growing up in a slum community in Sierra Leone, he invented a device that uses kinetic energy from traffic and pedestrians to generate clean power.


Refugees and asylum seekers live in Kakuma refugee camp

Two other GYAS also made the final 50 of the 2021 competition. Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassador programme is a network of 2,000 young people from more than 120 countries working together to end the global education crisis.

Now studying at Huron University College in Canada, Nhial continues to work on projects to assist life in the camp, including a student-led movement to provide 10,000 textbooks, laptops and funding for a library and community centre for young people.

He will give half of the $100,000 prize money for the construction and sustainable operation of the Kakuma Leadership and Innovation Centre, where the library and innovation hub will be based. The rest of the money will go towards his other established programmes.

Nhial is also a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Award, the World Vision Hero for Children Courage Award 2023 and the FilmAid Student Award 2021. He serves on eight committees and advisory boards, including two UN committees.

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