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On the evening of 28th September, Emmanuel Jal, artist, actor and former child soldier, joined the UV and Sixth Form for supper and a talk in Chapel, providing both insight and inspiration through his life story.

Below, UVI (Year 13) students, Rosie and Anna, describe the evening and what they learnt from it.

'Emmanuel now lives in Canada but was born in South Sudan, and since then has lived all over Africa. At a young age he was orphaned and went to a refugee camp, where he then walked with a group of others from South Sudan to Ethiopia in the hope of asylum. On the journey - which should have taken just one month but instead took three - he shared that many children died of hunger, exhaustion, and thirst and he even witnessed one of his friends take their own life. He said that this sparked a darkness in him because when he thought about his past, present, and future, his life seemed hopeless. Only after much suffering did he realise that he had a purpose in this world. Now, whenever he meets a challenge that he doesn’t think he can handle, he reminds himself that he has a purpose. 

Once he reached Ethiopia he was forced to become a child soldier, which meant he knew how to fire a gun before he could even write; a life we cannot even begin to imagine.
Emmanuel started the lecture by showing a video of his music featuring Alicia Keys, and then continued to dance down the aisle singing along with a microphone. It was so uplifting to see, and throughout the rest of his talk he sometimes burst into rap or ‘spoken word’ whilst keeping with his story and sharing his past with us. He asked us to join in, saying ‘being forced to sin to make a living,’ which described his life as a child soldier. He finished by getting some of us to the front and everyone on their feet dancing to one of his songs. After answering some very insightful questions, including one on his encounter with Nelson Mandela, we gave him a standing ovation because we all were so inspired by his amazing words. I can honestly say that this was one of the best lectures I have ever attended.' Rosie (UVI)

'It was a privilege to welcome Emmanuel Jal to the school and be able to share a lovely meal with him and the other music and drama students. He was a really warm and comfortable presence to be around, and we all enjoyed finding out more about him and speaking to him about our hopes for the future. After we had finished our food we sat in the chapel to listen to his talk. He began with getting the energy in the room up with an interactive song, empowering and connecting with the audience. It was fascinating to hear about his experiences growing up as a child soldier and his stories of survival.

Another key part of his talk were his extensive words of advice, and the lessons he has learnt over the course of his life. He spoke to us about replacing negative beliefs with positive beliefs, and visualising our future in an optimistic way; he even encouraged a couple of members of the audience to stand up and express a desired career they want to go into in their life. The rest of us then circled our palms together saying words of affirmation, and then we held our hands out towards them and said ‘Let it be.’ Similar audience participation was frequent throughout his lecture, and we had opportunities to think for ourselves and interact. I found his advice, especially his closing thoughts about failure, how it can be useful as a source of intelligence, and necessary in our life, extremely helpful and I love his perspectives. I will take forward his thought-provoking stories and attitude to life as significant inspiration, and am grateful to have had the opportunity to listen to him speak, as well as have dinner with him. He finished the night by getting us all on our feet and dancing, which he taught us the moves for. This was a unique and fun way to close, concluding an evening that will be hard to forget.'
Anna (UVI)