First-year student fights for peace in Sudan and Rwanda

While most 10-year-olds spent time watching cartoons, Daniel Cheng Yang learned about the civil war in Rwanda. Eight years later, he is a first-year University student, has authored a book and is an international figure for peace.

Mesmerized by the horrific images he saw on television in 1994, Yang was shocked to learn one million people died in 100 days because ethnic groups wanted to get rid of each other. More shocking though, he said, was how brief the news coverage was about the war.

Yang yearned for more information about Rwanda. For five years, he researched with Web sites and books. At the same time, he became interested in the Sudanese conflict between the north and south parts of the country.

Afraid the number of deaths and violence in Sudan and Rwanda were going unnoticed by the U.S. media, Yang made it his mission to inform the public about atrocities in the two countries.

“I wanted to go (to Sudan) and learn firsthand about what was going on,” Yang said. He said there were “very few accounts and documentation for what was actually happening.”

When he turned 15, Yang decided it was time to take action. After several e-mails and phone calls, in 1999 the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees granted him visitation to a refugee camp named Kakuma near the border of Sudan and Kenya.

In Sudan, Yang – surrounded by death and starving people – said he never felt powerless in not being able to help sick men and women.

“You never feel helpless because the people you’re surrounded by have such great spirits,” Yang said. “You move on and focus on what you can do to change things and help things.”

One trip to Kakuma was not enough. Yang returned four times to document the lives of the refugees in Kakuma with his camera.

With his photographs and first-hand accounts of the suffering, Yang wrote his first book, “Kakuma-Turkana, Dueling Struggles: Africa’s Forgotten Peoples.” The Dalai Lama wrote the book’s foreword.

Bonnie Hayskar, publisher of Pangaea, the company that picked up Yang’s manuscript, said Yang’s book is important not just to the United States, but to the entire international community.

“He sends a message that all things are possible,” Hayskar said. “He published a book at age 18 now sold around the world.”

Peggy Hampton, coordinator for the Multicultural Excellence Program, of which Yang is a member, said she is amazed at his maturity and talent.

“His youth is really pretty amazing that in such a short life, he’s really done a lot. That in itself is just phenomenal,” Hampton said.

Malia Lee, a first-year University student and another Multicultural Experience student, said Yang’s success is inspiring.

“I’m going into an artistic type of field. It makes me feel like there’s hope.”

Yang stays humble about his accomplishments.

“It’s not me; I’m just the vehicle to share what’s going on,” Yang said. “I feel lucky that I’ve had the opportunity for these experiences.”

Susie Vang is a freelance writer. The

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