One day in 2013, EARTH student Lian Biar Kuoirot Deng crossed the Nile River. Many people were crossing with her. They approached the river without thinking, sinking their feet in and continuing, moving their hands in the dense current, desperately searching for shore, a branch, a boat—anything that could be safer than what they were leaving behind: their burnt down homes in the village called Bor, invaded by all the aspects of the war.
Lian saw it with her own eyes. First, she ran towards the trees and hid behind some bushes. Then she heard gunshots and screams and saw many innocent people being struck down by a civil war difficult to comprehend in South Sudan and in the rest of the world. Later, like so many others, she ran towards the Nile until she and her family managed to get into a small boat and flee from the place that was their home. Around her, many people were seeking the shore, a branch, something to hold onto. But many couldn’t find anything, and she watched as their hands sank into the deep waters of the White Nile.
What Lian experienced that day in 2013 she experienced again in 2016 when she was living in Juba, the capital of her country. Clashes between the government and the opposition took place near the educational center where she and other young people had been struggling to study and survive at the same time, and she again had to flee to safety. Because of that experience, Lian started to tell her story, to seek freedom for the young people of her country to choose a path without having to worry every single day about running from bullets, bombs, and fire, without worrying about survival. At that time, she imagined a future where she could immerse herself in the study of math and science without being alert to the sounds of war.
Lian and her family had to separate to seek refuge in countries like Uganda and Kenya, fleeing from a conflict that began in 2011 and a conflict for which peace agreements were not signed until February of 2020. Nevertheless, she returned to South Sudan to finish high school because despite the war, forced displacements, and all the violence she had experienced, she never stopped studying. That was the true branch, the boat that sustained her and kept her alive to move forward. Education became her driving force, her safe place, her refuge.
And Lian was—and still is—an exemplary student. In school, she won writing and debating contests and at a young age she held various leadership positions. She developed her interest in agriculture by being part of a club where she learned and later taught other students about different kinds of crops. Agriculture became something essential to her.
“In my country, no one wants to dedicate themselves to farming. Many people prefer to sit in an office and always have clean clothes, but what happens if no one dedicates themselves to agriculture? In South Sudan, we have high levels of malnutrition, people are starving, and it is urgent that we change our thinking. I now feel responsible for seeking solutions and for convincing more young people about the importance of agriculture for food systems.”
Lian applied to EARTH after hearing about the opportunities and scholarships offered by the Mastercard Foundation. She started the admission process and was accepted to be part of the Class of 2025, with a full Mastercard Foundation scholarship. EARTH was the place she needed to be. The University aligned with her values, her dreams, and her desire to become a leader of change. Recently, she was chosen as the representative of Mastercard Scholars at EARTH and has been selected as an ambassador for the NextGen Ag Impact Network, a global network of leaders empowering youth in the agricultural world through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She is currently in her second year of studies at EARTH and already has many new tools, knowledge, ideas, and actions that she constantly puts into practice. Lian doesn’t let any opportunity pass by. She puts all her effort and dedication into everything she sets out to do, without forgetting where she comes from.
“After everything I’ve experienced, I’m prepared to face the world. Nothing can break me because I know the face of war. Having lived so much has made me the woman I am today. I know that as a South Sudanese girl, I have to be the one to fight for what I want because no one else will do it for me. And I like to dream big. I want to have my own company, harnessing the full potential of my country, one that has fertile land and hardworking people. I want people to be able to consume products grown in South Sudan under sustainable agricultural practices, knowing that these products will even be more affordable because currently we import much of the food we eat, despite having land for agriculture.”
Lian, we admire your strength and courage to tell your story. We believe that people like you are what the world needs to become a better place.