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Jacob Deng’s plans for a community centre in South Sudan include a school, dormitory, health care facility, two wells and a place where villagers can make school uniforms.

PAUL DARROW/The Globe and Mail

The Donor: Jacob Deng

The Gift: Creating Wadeng Wings of Hope

The Reason: To build and operate a school in South Sudan

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Jacob Deng was just seven years old when the civil war in South Sudan reached his village of Duk Padiet in the late 1980s. The young Mr. Deng fled, joining thousands of other boys heading to Ethiopia. He never saw his mother or six brothers again.

After four months, Mr. Deng and the other boys reached an Ethiopian refugee camp. But they had to flee again three years later when war broke out there. He finally made it to a refugee camp in Kenya and, in 2003, he was accepted as a refugee to Canada.

Once in Canada, Mr. Deng earned a university degree, got married, started a family and became a Canadian citizen. He soon wanted to share some of his good fortune with people in South Sudan.

"What I saw in Canada was education, where everybody is given an opportunity," he said from his home in Halifax. "That was really a trigger for me."

In 2005, Mr. Deng created Wadeng Wings of Hope, a Canadian charity that is raising money to build a community centre in Duk Padiet.

The centre will house and operate a school, dormitory, health care facility, two wells and a sewing place where villagers will make school uniforms. The organization has already supplied six sewing machines and 500 goats for a community farm.

Mr. Deng needs to raise $500,000 to build the centre and nearly $100,000 annually to run the school. So far he has raised about $70,000. He has returned to South Sudan, which became a separate country last year, several times to work with locals and other non-profit groups on the effort.

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When he is not working or raising money for the charity, Mr. Deng speaks at schools around Halifax. His message is simple: "You have to use the opportunity that is right in front of you. Make good use of it. Don't waste it because there are so many children in this world who never have what you have got."

pwaldie@globeandmail.com

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