Achut Deng & her sons

Dear Friends and Family, 

We hope you all are safe and healthy during this time. 

We want to share with you an opportunity to help an incredible woman we recently met who has touched us very deeply. Below is a bit about her story and our experience meeting her. Born in South Sudan, Achut Deng became an orphan at the age of 6 after a terrorist attack in her village. In 1991, she walked to Kenya to escape the violence and lived in refugee camps throughout her childhood. Ultimately, she moved to the United States through a program that helped relocate Sudanese orphans. She now works for one of the country’s largest meat processing plants, Smithfield, located in South Dakota. She works 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, and is a single mother to her three young, basketball-loving sons. Achut uses this income to support her boys and 5 other family members in Africa. 

We learned of Achut through Caitlin Dickerson’s interview with her on The Daily podcast. Aliyah and I are devoted listeners and always learn something from what they cover but this story stopped us in our tracks. Journalists began investigating Smithfield because it had one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the U.S. In this interview, Achut shared what it’s been like to work at the plant, contract the coronavirus, and try to manage the fear of her own sons possibly becoming orphans themselves if she died. 

Inspired by her story, we were eager to raise money for Achut and her boys and help in whatever way we could. After a number of attempts to find the reporter at The New York Times, we finally connected with Caitlin and she helped us get in contact with Achut. Achut was very generous with her time and we feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to get on the phone with her and learn more about her life, her boys, and her moving story. 

Immediately, her warm, kind, and loving spirit touched us. We reached her on the night before she was returning to work. We learned that Achut gets up at 4:30 in the morning and works until 6:00 pm. She said she heads straight home every day and as soon as she pulls up to her apartment, her three boys are waiting for her outside. She drops the older two off at basketball practice and - before the pandemic - any evening when they didn’t have a game, she’d take her younger son to the gym with her. She said, “That’s the only time all day I get a moment to myself.” They return home, have dinner, and even with her day beginning at 4:30, she often doesn’t go to sleep until 11. She does this every day except for Sundays when they attend church together as a family. 

In talking with Achut we learned more about how COVID-19 is affecting her and her family. She emphasized that she cannot afford to take time off from work or work fewer hours than the 60 she does every week, but, at the same time, the weight of being a single parent is ever-present. When she contracted COVID-19 and had to take time off from work, she felt haunted by her fear of dying and thus leaving her children without a parent. In The Daily’s interview, Achut discusses the world she is trying to create for her boys by working at Smithfield and what she feared as she suffered from the coronavirus. She says, “It’s not a perfect world. I’d make it perfect for them. But if I die, this world is not perfect anymore [for them].” 

In another touching moment during our call, Achut talked about gratitude: “I tell my kids every day that they are so blessed,” Achut said, “and you girls are blessed to have someone who cares where you’re going and what you’re doing. I never had that as a child.” She then laughed and said that she is thankful that her boys haven’t ever pushed back on her constantly reminding them of their blessings and hopes they never will. 

We recognize our own family’s privilege at this time and are grateful for our health and our community and we feel so blessed to know Achut now. Should you wish to donate to Achut and her family, any amount would be greatly appreciated. We are hoping these funds can, in some small but meaningful way, help make up for the pay she lost when she was ill as well as, possibly, give her some breathing room for these very uncertain times. 

Thank you very much for your generosity. Achut shared how much others caring about her story means to her and how surprised she was by it and gave us permission to have it shared as widely as possible. Please reach out to us with any questions or thoughts. We are grateful for our community and to have people in our lives who care so deeply about others. 

 Thank you so much. Wishing you and your loved ones well-being during this time. 

With love and gratitude,

Mikaela and Aliyah Lipsky

Here is the link to The Daily podcast if you wish to learn more about Achut and her story. 

Via Spotify: The Daily: One Meat Plant. One Thousand Infections. On Spotify

Via Apple Podcasts: ‎The Daily: One Meat Plant. One Thousand Infections. On Apple Podcasts 

Via Stitcher: The Daily: One Meat Plant. One Thousand Infections. On Stitcher.
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Organizer and beneficiary

Aliyah and Mikaela Lipsky
Seattle, WA
Achut Deng

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