Jal was seven years old when he was taken from his home and sent to fight with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army in 1987. He served on the battlefield for nearly five years, carrying an AK-47 taller than he was. Eventually, he escaped, and a British aid worker smuggled him into Nairobi, where he attended school.
It was there that Jal found the power of hip-hop music—as a way to cope with the past and advocate for the oppressed. He recorded his first album, Gua, in 2005, and has since put out three more.
His true passion, though, is Gua Africa (“gua” means “peace” in Nuer, a Sudanese tribal language), the nonprofit he founded that works to rehabilitate child soldiers and support war-torn communities in Sudan and Kenya.
“Jal is one of a handful of people in the world whose humanity is so deep that it transcends language, culture, and geography,” said Rebecca Riccio, founding program director of Northeastern Students4Giving, in her opening remarks.
For Jal, the motivation behind that humanity is simple: “If you lack playing a part in giving back to mother Earth,” he says, “then you are going to be a very sad person.”