Valentino Achak Deng was born in what was formerly the southern region of Sudan, in the village of Marial Bai. Valentino was one of many “Lost Boys” that fled Sudan on foot in the 1980’s to escape the violent civil war that was tearing the nation apart. He spent nine years in Ethiopian and Kenyan refugee camps. In Kenya, he worked for the UNHCR as a social advocate and reproductive health educator until he was resettled to Atlanta. Valentino began touring the U.S. to speak about his early years in Sudan and his experience as a refugee. He also collaborated with American author Dave Eggers on What Is the What, the novelized version of his life story.
In 2006, Valentino was able to establish the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation with the support of Eggers and the proceeds from their book. The organization’s goal is to help rebuild South Sudanese communities by increasing access to educational opportunities. With a focus on secondary education and specifically education for girls, the Foundation plans to create a viable and community-driven education center in Marial Bai. Ultimately, the center will include upwards of 18 buildings including a secondary school, a library, a teacher-training college, student dormitories, a community center, and sports fields.
Several components of the center have been constructed and are fully operational. The Marial Bai Secondary School (MBSS) has increased access to excellent secondary education, trained teachers, created equal opportunities for girls, and promoted literacy for children and adults in the region. MBSS is the highest ranking South Sudanese secondary school that is free for students to attend, a true leader in the movement to educate the new nation of South Sudan.