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This article was published 14/10/2011 (3625 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Don't tell Reuben Garang that life throws too many obstacles in the way of getting an education.
Sure, it's tough. There are enormous hardships, and huge hurdles to overcome. But it can be done, says Garang, who on Sunday becomes a University of Winnipeg graduate in environmental sciences and is already in a master's program.
A Lost Boy of Sudan, a child soldier, a refugee, Garang is also a Canadian citizen, a father, and a university graduate.
"I have something to tell other people -- they have opportunities, nothing should stop them, they should value education," Garang declared.
The fall convocation at U of W begins at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Duckworth Centre.
His documents say he was born in 1979, said Garang, but he's closer to 40. That's just one of the complications of spending most of your life as a refugee.
"I left southern Sudan in January of 1987. There were 1,000 young boys" marching for months to reach safety, he said. "That's when I started to learn the A-B-C-D."
He was still a teenager when he took a gun and saw combat.
"I was given arms. Having a gun was necessary for us -- the government of Sudan was trying to eliminate us," Garang said. "The war situation is forcing you as a child to have a gun.
"It's different from the Sierra Leone perspective, we were not forced to fight our own people," he pointed out. Garang said some child soldiers are forced to fight their own people, some defend their own people, but they're all children.
"What the war takes away is opportunities, it blocks potential. I could have been a different person if there was no war," he said.
The United Nations refugee camp he eventually reached had a school, "but it's not really a priority, the priority is survival."
When Garang came here as a refugee in 2006, he spent a year learning English. He read the dictionary to help boost his language skills, and then he enrolled at U of W.
With the establishment of an independent country in southern Sudan, he's able to go back in relative safety, where Garang said he has siblings.
"For me to be grounded again, I have to see where I was born. I have to rebury my parents" in the village where they lived.
Garang will live here, because that gives his children the opportunities he missed in his youth.
"I am very much a person who can do any job," Garang said.
But above all, "I want to reach out to young people," Garang said. "They have an opportunity."
He'll be holding a community dinner to give that message to young people at 5 p.m. Sunday at St. Matthew's Church, right after convocation.