Dominic Deng Diing, a refugee in the U.S., educates 3,000 children back in South Sudan
Dominic Deng Diing, who escaped the violence in Sudan, raises funds to help schoolchildren there.
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Diing is a bouncy, exuberant man who is never known to complain, says Gerry Catalano, a programs coordinator at Niagara University's college of business administration. He sits on the board of Aid and Care along with Mr. Angello.Skip to next paragraph
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Diing casually recounts the deaths of his friends and family members. He rolls up his pants to reveal delicate pink scars running up and down his dark legs – the result of stumbling into sharp tree limbs and bushes during his exodus from Sudan.
But when he reflects on the 400 Buffalo public school students he now counsels in his job as an academic coach for Journey's End Refugee Services, a community-based organization that provides support to refugee families in western New York, his tone hardens. Diing is mystified by the dangerous situations some youths put themselves into in this city, which has the third-highest percentage of low-income residents among all large American cities.
"Some kids are wilder than they used to be before they came to America," Diing explains. "They rebel. They get stressed.... Last year, there was a 17-year-old boy from Burma who came to school with a gun.... It's like, 'Why would you lead a risky life when you live in a safe place, with no attacks, no hunger, nothing?'"
It's hard for him to fully understand, he says, when he compares inner-city Buffalo with refugee camps in Africa.
"I always tell them my experience of carrying a gun as a child," says Diing, recalling his time in the Sudan People's Liberation Army, a rebel group. He was forcibly recruited as a soldier after fleeing Kakuma. The 16-year-old was shot and wounded just two weeks into service but managed to escape back to the camp.
"The kids say to me, 'Wow, you've been through this?' "
Diing has become "very sought after" as a coach by parents and children, says Donna Peppero, an educational services coordinator for Journey's End. "He is such a child in spirit, and I think he is finally able to have that childhood again that he was stripped of during his childhood years."
This summer, Diing will meet the roughly 3,000 students at New Hope in South Sudan for the first time. His visit will coincide with the country's pending establishment as a new, independent nation, the result of a 2005 peace agreement between the North and South and a referendum vote in favor of independence in January 2011.
Diing plans to return regularly to South Sudan to oversee construction of the secondary school. It will include a library, computer lab, and dorms for volunteers.
They will be welcomed. He expects that the school will need all the help it can get.
• Visit www.aidandcareforafrica.org