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ULS Speaker Shares Unique Experiences with Leadership

John Bul Dau, a Sudanese refugee, visited USF to share his story about his past in Sudan and how it shaped him into the leader that he is today.

By Laura Kneski 
      USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (March 17, 2015) - A Sudanese refugee, a four-time nonprofit founder and a motivational speaker came to the University of South Florida, and it was all the same man.

John Bul Dau spoke to USF students during a University Lecture Series event about how his life circumstances forced him into positions of leadership. When he was 12 years old, bullets whistled past his head as he dove into the long grass, separated from his family. Traveling in groups – at its largest totaling 27 people – he arrived in Ethiopia with only three other boys. They drank mud and chewed grass to survive. When they reached the refugee camp, Dau was picked to lead 50 boys because he was the tallest. He never asked for it and was never trained in it, but he embraced it.

“Leadership is like GPA. It is cumulative of what you work for. What you went through. So you accumulate that, ‘Oh learn here, learn there,’ and you build your leadership skills,” said Dau.

Dau traveled to the U.S. with help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He was taken to New York, where he earned his bachelor’s at Syracuse University. It sounds simple enough in hindsight, but adjusting to electric lights, toilets and motion-sensor doors were all part of his and his two friends’ first-day tutorial in America. A few months later when snow started to fall, he put an icy armful of it in the trunk of a car and then set it on the dining room table.

Dau laughed along with the audience. “It was a very stupid thing to do.”

Even after suffering so much loss, Dau wasn’t of the mindset that from then on he only deserved help. He was earnest in figuring out a way to repay the kindness.

“’Look, the American people have been helping me. None of my family members have ever worked in the United States to pay taxes so I can get financial aid.’ So I said, ‘What am I going to do? I must give back,’” said Dau.

He started the Lost Boys Foundation of New York and they raised $5,000. He stepped down from that organization and started American Care for Sudan foundation, successfully raising $180,000.

He then formed the John Dau Foundation and raised over $2 million. The money was used to open a clinic in the State of Jonglei, South Sudan, which is now large enough to be called a hospital.

His fourth organization is the South Sudan Institute, furthering educational development in the area.

Dau’s success has touched the lives of so many people that it cannot be put into words. However, it can be broken down into numbers:

     · More than $3 million raised for South Sudan

     · 130,000 people have been medically cared for

               o At least 600 people cured of blindness from mobilized U.S. ophthalmologists

               o Vaccinations have been given to 11,000 children, 10,000 mothers and 13,000 minorities

Dau encourages people to simply “speak the human language.” He stressed that every human is born from the same biology, and that everyone can choose to give up. Everyone has a story of suffering, and everyone has a metaphoric box of safety that they don’t necessarily want to leave. Fear of name-calling and embarrassment discourages change, and it holds people back.

At the end of the lecture, Dau leaned against the lectern and scanned the eyes of 110 people in the audience.

“You know, do you think I’m here – really – to show off? I don’t think so. I’m not here to show off. If you have been listening to the first part of my life story before, it was very graphic. I—I don’t know how I survived. From the lions, from the hyenas, from thirst, from starvation, from a fellow human being. At some point, at that time, I thought it would be my turn to die. But I survived. I saw many young people, who were from my own group, dying. They died because of the things I just mentioned. But I survived. I survived not because of my leadership skills. I survived not because I was so strong. I survived not because I was so cunning. I simply survived because of two things. One, through mighty God. God protected me. Second, I never give up. I never give up.”

Dau’s and others’ experiences relating back to Sudan’s civil war are detailed in the documentary, “God Grew Tired of Us.”

The next ULS event will feature Bill Nye, known by many as “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” on April 7. For updates on upcoming ULS events, visit the ULS Twitter and Facebook page.

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