After living mostly away from his family, a refugee originally from what is now South Sudan was able to reunite with his wife and three of their four children at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, with most of them never before having set foot on American soil. On July 27, Fidele Diing Dhan, who has been working with Reaching Out 2 Africa with Father Ronald Sajdak and Joan Ersing, met his wife, Abang Garang Kuol, and their children Abuk, Lok and Gau at the airport. Dhan, born in what is now South Sudan, has lived here since 2001.
"This is a very special day," said Dhan, noting his family will be living here on a permanent basis. "We will be able to get involved with the kids, raising them, so it will be teamwork, you know. She has been raising them by herself, so that is not easy. She can join us and we will be able to raise the children now."
With the entire family now being able to live in the Buffalo area, it will be easier for Dhan to be able to be there if one of the children gets sick, which he said was a major source of worry. The children are ages 7, 5, 3 and 11 months. He has supported them financially since his wife is a stay-at-home mom.
When Dhan first arrived in the country, he initially did not know anyone, but was able to connect with Father Sajdak through a mutual friend, when Father Sajdak had already started working with African refugees. This also led to Dhan's role with the ministry in the Diocese of Buffalo that helps them.
The couple's oldest son, Diing, has been living with his father in the Buffalo area since 2015, and this meeting was the first time in a year and a half that he had seen his mother or two sisters. He met his baby brother, 11-month-old Gau, for the first time. Since marrying in 2007 in the village of Koiyom, South Sudan, Dhan said the family has seldom stayed in one place for long. They relocated to Uganda in 2008.
"I visit. Sometimes I go there. Last year, my son, the oldest, was able to come here," Dhan said, noting the long history of war in his native country was what led to his arrival in the United States.
In the Diocese of Buffalo, Father Sajdak and Dhan have worked together to raise money to build a new wing of a medical clinic in Koiyom, since Africa's newest country is still experiencing a great deal of both political and ethnic strife and there has continued to be war there since it became independent. Diseases are also rampant. Reaching Out 2 Africa is based out of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Buffalo.
"The program that we are doing in South Sudan is complete. The first phase is complete," Dhan added. "Even though we are not in there officially, we have already accomplished something."
Father Sajdak said while a large container of medical supplies is there, "the medical infrastructure of the country is really bad," which has created challenges. "It's become very, very difficult," he said.
Dhan settled in Syracuse before coming to the Buffalo area in 2003. He received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2006, the year he became an American citizen and one year before he married. Dhan's early life was as one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan."
The "Lost Boys" were thousands of children who were orphaned as a result of civil war in Sudan. Many left to seek refuge in other countries, with many eventually settling in refugee camps elsewhere in Africa, and eventually the United States. The Second Sudanese War lasted from 1983 until 2005; predominantly Muslim groups from the north clashed with Christians and followers of traditional African religions in the south. It led to the formation of the nation of South Sudan, which separated from Sudan in 2011.
When asked about the role of the Catholic Church in helping people in need throughout the world, Dhan said the Church has stepped up to the plate and thanked Father Sajdak for his role in helping refugees, including his own family. Now that they are here, they must adjust to a very different culture.
"It's not easy, but through the support of my friends and some other important people, it has come to this day. They are very excited. I spoke with them once a day before they went to the airport," Dhan commented. "It's good that they are coming when it's a little bit warmer. They're not used to snow. They have a little bit of an introduction before the snow has started. Then, they can be shoveling snow."