I spent this afternoon in Fayette, Mo., at Central Methodist University talking to students about Valentino Achak Deng. Deng is one of Sudan’s “Lost Boys” and was the focus of Dave Egger’s book “What is the What.”
Deng began life in the U.S. with $800 in his pocket and not much else. Through a tremendous amount of hard work and his partnership with Eggers, he has been able to give a lot back to his home country. He and Eggers established the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation with profits from “What is the What,” and the organization has been so successful that in May 2009 it opened the Marial Bai Secondary School, the only high school in this entire region of Sudan.
People from all walks of life bonded over Deng’s story. Students, faculty and staff at CMU are employing personal skills and organizing fundraisers to benefit his foundation, and students gather in book clubs to participate in open conversations about everything from strength and hope to a changed perspective on one’s own life.
I had the opportunity to speak with Carrie Flaspohler, the information services librarian at CMU and the woman responsible for bringing Deng’s story to CMU. She first read the book three years ago in a book club, and it touched her so much that she was compelled to share it with as many people as possible.
Her passion for the story is apparent when talking to her, and she has a unique ability to inspire similar enthusiasm in students all over the campus.
Deng’s story is so inspirational — I recommend that everyone reads “What is the What.” Not only will it make you grateful for your own blessings, it will leave you with a powerful message that no matter what happens to you, hope can keep you going.
Keep an eye on ColumbiaMissourian.com to read more about this inspiring story and how it has touched the lives of so many CMU students!