SOUTH SUDAN- Beauty queen and fashion model Aheu Deng was born November 28, 1986, in Itang (Ethiopian District), which was a South Sudan rebel camp. Her height makes her one of the tallest recorded beauty queens to have competed in any Grand Slam or beauty contest at 6 feet and 5 inches (1.95 m).
Aheu Deng speaks five languages, including English, Swahili, and some Arabic. Besides Dinka, her mother tongue, she also speaks the Acholi dialect, a Nilotic language. While living in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya, she was forced to marry a stranger and dropped out of high school. After surviving the Kakuma Refugee Camp and forced marriage at the age of 15, she became a survivor.
On May 8, 1992, her father, General Deng Kudum, was killed leading a revolt against Juba by the Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA). She was raised as the eldest of four girls by a single mother. As part of the war of independence against North Sudan, General Gen Kudum was killed along with nine other Bor Dinka brothers.
It was remarkable that in an interview with The African Dream Aheu Deng said, “Just like any other South Sudanese child of a fallen hero, I’ve never tasted the essence of peace or freedom.”
“From the time I was born, my mom and I were always on the move trekking on foot on a journey of thousands of miles to seek refuge in different places because of the civil war. I was brought up by a very strong woman who dedicated her life to serving her country.“
“She was a coordinator of women’s affairs. Regardless of life’s storms and the impact of war, she never failed in her duties as a mother, wife, and leader. We fled to Kakuma refugee camp, the site of a UNHCR refugee camp in Kenya that was established in 1992, and lived there for a couple of years.”
In response to the issue of being forced into a marriage which must have been quite traumatic, Aheu Deng confirmed , Yes, and that it was very traumatic!
“As an educated woman, my mother is aware of the importance of education and she always said to me, “Education is the key to life.”
“Based on this she sent me to school, and I embraced this opportunity, always emerging at the top in my class as it made mom happy, it also made me happy to see her happy. With my height, I always stood out among my peers so I would have been easily identified if I wasn’t doing well academically.”
Through a forced marriage at the age of sixteen (16), her education was cut short against her will.
“I had just completed my primary school with great results and a scholarship to pursue high school education when my uncles ganged up and forcefully married me off to a complete stranger just in exchange for a dowry.”
This incident occurred while my mother was at church. “I had told them that I wanted to pursue my education and wasn’t interested in getting married as a minor. They didn’t listen but instead beat me up until I was unconscious.”
“I was carried like a corpse to this man’s house (my supposed husband to be) who was still in the United States of America (USA) at the time.”
“This traumatic experience happened in broad daylight and was witnessed by hundreds of people in the refugee camp, a place that is supposed to be safe and secure for all refugees. I was left there to suffer alone, and nobody came to my rescue.”
Considering escaping, she said, “On the night of my forced marriage, I had to share a bed with a girl that was put there to supervise me so that I wouldn’t “sneak out”.
“Luckily, she fell asleep, and I used the opportunity to escape. The houses in Kakuma were grass thatched with tiny windows covered with wire mesh. I had to use my fingers to rip the wire mesh off and got several cuts on my hand. I then pushed myself out with a lot of difficulties leaving bruises and deep wounds on my entire body.”
“With every fiber of my strength, I ran as fast as I could with no shoes on once I made it out, and with thorns piercing through my feet. I ran like a sprinter towards a protection center. When I got there, I was covered in blood and out of breath. I had hoped for sanctuary, but I was immediately turned away by the security guards.”
It was suggested that Aheu Deng come back the next morning since there was “no one in the office” to attend to her.
Aheu Deng said when her mom learnt of her whereabouts, she went to the police station and asked to take her daughter home. “When I got home, I fainted and was rushed to the hospital. Upon waking up in a hospital bed and screaming at top of my lungs, the doctor had to inject me with some medication to put me to sleep. When I woke up, I couldn’t stop crying, I had become mentally unstable.”
“They chained me to the bed on which I was in so that I wouldn’t hurt myself. My mom was completely heartbroken and shattered. As a Dinka woman (a Nilotic ethnic group native to South Sudan), she had no voice or means of protecting me no matter how hard she tried.”
The entire month Aheu Deng spent in the hospital, her mother was by her side. Throughout her life, she has been her only counselor and prayed for her.
When Aheu Deng was discharged from the hospital, they convinced her she was going back to continue her studies, so she accepted to go home because it was the only condition under which her mind at the time would allow her to return home happy.
Having completed her primary school finals, Aheu Deng received another scholarship blessing, and the prospect of a high school education once more became a tangible reality.
The young man who was supposed to forcefully marry Aheu Deng came from the USA shortly after her exams.
Despite Aheu Deng’s ego, she summoned a great deal of courage and sat down with him. Her priority was focusing on her studies before anything else, she explained to him. Additionally, she asked him to return to the U.S. and continue his studies so that they could meet neutrally and naturally.
In the history of beauty pageants and Grand Slams, Aheu Deng remains the tallest documented beauty queen. During the annual Miss Earth South Sudan beauty pageant, which was produced by the Minister of Tourism of South Sudan and Beauties of Africa Inc, the franchise holder, in June 2009, Aheu Deng was crowned Miss Earth South Sudan. Through the franchise holder appointment, she inherited the 2008 Beauties of South Sudan crown from Nok Duany.
The World’s Tallest Beauty Queen feat has been submitted to Guinness World Records for inclusion and certification.
She declined an opportunity to tour Asia, Europe, and South America as a spokesperson for South Sudan in 2010. In her hometown of Juba, Aheu Deng runs a charity organization that helps poor South Sudanese.
In 2011, she founded the Miss South Sudan Foundation to advocate for women’s issues and to speak out against child marriage, which she experienced. Entrepreneurial skills are also a part of her resume.
Today, Aheu Deng thanks all those who have supported her from the beginning, especially her mother and those she can’t name.
“I am thankful to God for my daughter and the opportunity I now have to give her a better life and the same to all the young girls and women I am advocating for. I’m also grateful for my publicist Oral Ofori, CEO of TheAfricanDream.net who has been supportive, and all my social media following for the love and support.”