May 9, 2017 - The Record


A Life-long Journey, an Unbeatable Spirit: TUC’s Lost Boy of Sudan

Deng Jongkuch, CEHS 2011

Deng JongkuchBorn in Bor County, South Sudan, Deng Jongkuch was only 7 years old, when he was separated from his family during the civil war. He spent nearly 15 years either trekking to safety or in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. In 2001, he was selected along with 3800 other "Lost Boys of Sudan" to come to the United States where he was relocated to San Jose, California. In June 2008, Deng graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in Health Services Administration and completed graduate studies in 2011 at Touro University California with a Masters of Public Health. Deng first returned to his village in the summer of 2005 and was reunited with his family after 18 years. He was dismayed to find his village in poor condition, lacking any road, clean water, health clinic, or school. He passionately committed to helping re-build villages in need in South Sudan and helped found a California based non-profit organization called ImpactAVillage.

Growing up as a Lost Boy of Sudan for 14 years, what did you have to do to survive?

I left South Sudan in 1987 because of the civil war that had been going in the country since 1955. I walked to an Ethiopian refugee camp for safety and spent four years in the camp. Ethiopian rebels overthrew the government in 1991 and more than 70,000 refugees, including about 30,000 unaccompanied minors, were forced to cross the border to South Sudan. But the conflict in South Sudan forced the refugees to flee again to Northern Kenya in 1992. I spent about 10 years in a refugee camp in North Kenya.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations World Food Programme provided food, water, basic education, and healthcare services. My survival in the refugee camps depended on the donations from other countries. Food, education, and healthcare were basic, which made survival really difficult at the camp. I basically started my education under a tree as a classroom without enough textbooks, notebooks, pencils, and pens. Students shared a piece of a pencil and notebooks and textbooks. The United Nations started providing classrooms and learning materials when I was in fourth grade. Healthcare services were basic, just enough to treat malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, and other infectious diseases. When I was at the camp, I almost died from a Schistosomiasis infection because there wasn’t any laboratory diagnostic equipment.

Of all the things that you could have done once you made it to the States, what has driven you to pursue public health and return to your home village to help?

I first visited South Sudan on January 2006, just after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the South Sudan rebels and the government of Sudan. I was emotionally devastated by the level of poverty and lack of healthcare services and education. Many children were dying because of malaria and other controllable infectious diseases. I also learned during the visit that there were far too few doctors and nurses to take care of the sick. I did a lot of thinking and researched about how I can be effective when I move to South Sudan. I found that a Master in Public Health would help me to help South Sudan address infectious diseases with the shortage of doctors and nurses. Teaching people to build pit latrines and boil drinking water would save lives. Public Health was a right thing for me and South Sudan.

How has your time in TUC’s Public Health program helped enabled you to go back into the world and make a difference?

The Public Health program helped me to understand global public health challenges and their impact on human socioeconomic development. While at TUC, I gained knowledge about the diseases of underdeveloped and developing nations.  Infectious diseases, although considered to only be prevalent in developing countries, are finding themselves in developed nations due to globalization and immigration. I learned about global aid and it impact (both positive and negative) on developing countries.

What should people know about the state of Southern Sudan right now?

The new Republic of South Sudan is still facing many challenges of post conflicts. There are tribal conflicts compounded by cattle riding. The country seems to be in civil war again, and famine has been declared in the north part of South Sudan. The country is facing the worst economic meltdown in its history. Millions of people are being displaced into refugee camps in neighboring countries.

Could you share more about the programs & projects that you’ve been involved in?

After returning from South Sudan in 2005, I started a campaign to raise funds to help build a primary school building my village of Malek. We formed a non-profit organization called Impact A Village where people could donate money for the school building. The construction finished in 2009, and the school has enrolled more than 450 students. 

I am currently working as Executive Director at the non-profit organization called Partners in Compassionate Care (PCC) in Grand Rapids Michigan. PCC sent me to South Sudan to manage a hospital on their behalf. I spent two years in South Sudan at Memorial Christian Hospital before I returned to the USA in 2013. PCC is running two “Bush Clinics” that provide basic healthcare services to rural communities. The hospital provides surgical services, laboratory, pharmacy, admission, and imaging. It is a small rural hospital with 24 beds. The hospital and clinics are staffed with South Sudanese, but we have American visitors who come to help periodically.

I am currently raising fund to purchase medicine and medical supplies for the hospital and the two clinics. PCC had been invited by another village to set up another clinic in a rural village of Jalle. Although the need is high, PCC cannot commit to open the new clinic until we raise $30,000 for medicines and supplies.

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Our Staff, Brigit Perez, Learning Specialist

Brigit Perez

Brigit Perez is the Learning Specialist here at Touro University California and is in her 5th year working at this beautiful campus. She graduated from UC Berkeley with her BA in American Studies, and she graduated from Touro University with her MAEd in Teaching Mathematics. Brigit believes that knowledge can be the key to success, but only if it’s put into practice and shared with others.

You’ve worked in two different roles at TUC and also are an alumna of the Graduate School of Education. What makes TUC a special place for you?

TUC is very special to me because of the person that I have become (and still becoming) while working with and learning from all of the amazingly talented people from all of Touro. I began my journey in the Public Health program and I cannot say enough about how wonderful the faculty and staff are!  Additionally, I have earned my MAEd in Teaching Mathematics from the Master’s program in GSOE, where I further ratified my desire to enter  the world of education. I have always known that I wanted to become an educator, I just wasn’t sure where or how. I quickly learned that helping students succeed is my number one priority and that is exactly what I am doing. I now get to work with all TUC students and help them succeed and achieve their goals while they go through their journey here at Touro University California.

What are some ways that you help graduate students learn more effectively?

There are many methods that students can use to learn more effectively, some of which include: making a study plan and sticking to it, self-testing or testing others, or utilizing the Pomodoro Technique which is a time management tool. Each student is unique, but they all share the desire to succeed and my job is to help them attain their goal.

Can you tell us a bit about your family? How do they shape who you are?

I have an amazing husband and two incredibly intelligent little girls (6 yrs and 2 yrs). I got through my undergraduate and graduate schooling with their support, and I don’t take it for granted. I plan to become the best me I can be so that I can encourage and help them do the same. I was raised by a single mom and I was the youngest of four. Although education was not a priority while I was growing up, my mom wanted nothing more than the best for us. My brothers and I were the first to earn a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in all of the family – which then created a gateway for our cousins, nieces, nephews and kids to make education a priority in their lives, and that is truly a blessing. I am who I am today because of all of the experiences I have  had – and I will continue to strive and advocate the importance of education.

Who would your family be as Disney characters?

We are definitely a Disney family and we love all things Disney. Currently, Sophia and Layla are both into the newest movie, Moana. They enjoy singing and dancing like Moana, they call my husband Maui, and I am the wise Grandma Tala. We have a lot of fun!

Where would we find you on the weekend? What are your interests outside of work?

On the weekends you could either find me at baseball, gymnastics or ballet for my girls, at a Giants Baseball game, at a family event, or of course, at Disneyland! I have an incredibly full life and I am very grateful.

Research Day, 2017: Sharing Insight to Help Others

The 16th Annual Research Day drew crowds eager to learn about the work that students and faculty are doing here at Touro University California. Attendees waded through the 74 posters presented that highlight projects from across the school.

A round of lightning talks from six TUC faculty members shared from their experience and gave new insight on research methods. The Keynote address was given by Laura Gottleib, MD, MPH, a USCF Researcher and Clinician whose ground breaking work focuses on social determinants of health in day-to-day clinical practice, research, and hospital administration.

The Shark Tank competition entertained and educated with students pitching research projects to get audience buy-in. Timothy Kim, student at the College of Osteopathic Medicine, survived the sharks with his study called “Student Nutrition Profile: The effects of High Glycemic Index Carbohydrates on Student Mental Wellness”. Runner up was Robin So, who competed with the other finalists Katherine Farley, Aaron Newman, and Jeff Timberman.

This year’s Research day was organized by the College of Education and Health Sciences, led by Drs. Sahai Burrowes and Carinne Brody of the Public Health Program as well as Senior Administrative Assistant Sharon Chesney.

Experience the day for yourself in the photo album below.