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A Name & Story You Won’t Soon Forget – Emmanuel Jal: From Child Soldier to AFP International Conference Speaker

March 19, 2013

The name Emmanuel Jal may not be as widely known to you as some of our other general session speakers for the 2013 AFP International Conference on Fundraising, but that won’t make his story of “lose” and “win” any less powerful. Using hip hop to tell the tale of life as child soldier, Jal proves that being born into a “losing” situation doesn’t mean you can’t persevere and “win” in the end, all the while helping others.


Jal was born on an unknown date in the 1980s in Southern Sudan at a time when the second Sudanese Civil War was breaking out. His childhood was ripped from him as he was forced to become a child soldier at the ripe age of seven. Despite his early upbringing, Jal was determined to break free and educate himself so his adulthood did not mimic his unimaginably tough childhood. After years as a child soldier for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), Jal and some other children ran away, with many dying on the way, until they reached an area with a small group that had extracted themselves from the main SPLA. Free at last—or so he thought.

At 11 years old, Jal was adopted by a British aid worker, who smuggled him to Kenya. His misfortune continued as Jal’s caretaker was killed in a road accident just months after adopting him. Jal soon found himself back on the streets, living in the slums of Nairobi.


Despite everything that Jal had endured in just a little over a decade of life, he persevered, defying his birth place, early childhood and adversity. He found his solace in hip hop, identifying with its unique messages that addressed issues being faced by the neighborhood. With no musical background, Jal still felt that hip hop was the way to tell his story and that it would embody his emotions and efforts to lobby for political change.

Fast forward to 2004 when Jal released his first album, Gua, which symbolizes peace and power. Over the next nine years Jal continued to tell his story through hip hop, releasing four albums (so far), touring the US as part of the National Geographic All Roads Film Festival, performing alongside the likes of Moby and Alicia Keys, and speaking in front of the United Nations and Congress.

The message that runs through his music and speeches is that sometimes you have to “lose” in order for someone to “win”. Through his ‘Lose to Win’ challenge, which benefits the charity he founded, Gua Africa, as well as the Africa Yoga Project and MyStart, he asks you to ‘lose’ something in order to help others less fortunate ‘win’. As a part of this challenge, Jal completed a 661-day ‘Lose to Win’ fast where he ate only one meal per day in order to build a school in his birth town.

From War to Peace

Jal’s made incredible strides to get to where he is today. On Monday, April 8, Jal will speak to your mind, your heart and your soul through his music at the 2013 AFP International Conference on Fundraising—he finds that to be the best way to appeal to your senses and soul without your permission. Join Jal and the other inspiring young philanthropists in San Diego as they tell their stories of hardship to success. 

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