Nyajuok T. Mangongo: “You must have a clear vision, possess discipline, and be consistent in your actions”

You must have a clear vision, possess discipline, and be consistent in your actions. Surround yourself with the right people for support and encouragement when you feel defeated. They will keep you on the right path to reach your goal. No one becomes successful by accident. Especially someone like me coming from a faraway refugee camp in […]

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You must have a clear vision, possess discipline, and be consistent in your actions.

Surround yourself with the right people for support and encouragement when you feel defeated. They will keep you on the right path to reach your goal.

No one becomes successful by accident. Especially someone like me coming from a faraway refugee camp in Ethiopia.

Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.

As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nyajuok Mangongo.

Nyajuok Tongyik-Doluony is a mother of three. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a minor in nutrition and a master’s degree in public health. She recently retired from the United States Army and now serves her community through Ross Girls Breaking the Silence, LLC. She’s a traveling nurse and advocate for women’s rights.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

My family immigrated to the United States in 1999 and settled in Omaha, Nebraska. Before arriving, my family spent several years between two refugee camps in Ethiopia. As an immigrant from a war-torn country, I had to fight for everything I had, so I spent half of my life in fear. Fear ruled my life for far too long, so I’ve broken my silence, and I’m telling the world what they may not know about the practices of my small East African country and its immigrant communities right here in the United States. Women’s oppression is real, and we need to challenge and change women’s overall views in Africa. I pray my story inspires young girls and gives them hope and courage to break the negative cycles in their families and achieve their dreams regardless of their current circumstances.

My culture doesn’t believe girls should receive schooling; they are only to get married and have babies. This belief has kept too many women illiterate, including my mother, and that would not be me. Even after we moved to the United States, my fight continued. Still, this time my fight also included my education and my resistance to cultural norms, particularly arranged marriages of very young children. After experiencing the trauma of cultural traditions, arranged marriages, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, war, and mental health issues, I’m sharing my story and using my voice to highlight the problems that plague so many daily. I know I am not alone.

Growing up, I believed my parents loved me because they did everything they could to make sure my siblings and I did not go hungry or die of starvation, literally. It was common for kids to die from malnourishment in refugee camps, but my mother did the best she could with the limited resources available to her to ensure we did not suffer the same fate. When we moved to the United States, love took on a whole new meaning for me.

Love was no longer about having a roof over my head, clothes on my body, or shoes on my feet. My understanding of love grew deeper; it was about respect, and I felt disrespected. I searched for love in how they talked to me, what they thought of me, how they treated me compared to my siblings, and I couldn’t find it. My parents always blamed me for everyone else’s actions. The preferential treatment of my siblings over me showed itself in ways I never imagined. My parents beat me regularly for not having the house clean before my mother got home from work or for not washing dishes before I laid down to bed.

When I was 14, my family entered me into an arranged marriage which resulted in me being a single mother of one for 11 years. Arranged marriages are happening across America every day, yet very few people talk about it. Although I was just a kid, I could not hang out with other kids my age because I was getting married, and my family did not want other community members to see me “slutting around” I guess it didn’t matter that I was still a virgin. I watched enviously as my siblings got to enjoy the freedom of childhood while my family sheltered me during the time my arranged marriage was taking place — a sense of isolation set in. I often ask myself whether I did something wrong as a child that warranted the treatment I received from my parents or whether my childbirth caused my mother the most pain. It was hard to understand why they treated me so differently, and the lack of understanding almost cost me my life. At 16 years old, I contemplated suicide for the first time, but it wasn’t the last. I was in the car with my Father driving from the project to Burt Street, where my aunty lived, and as we crossed a bridge from South Omaha near Interstate 75 on Q Street, a thought popped into my mind. The thought told me to jump out of the car onto the highway and end what I considered an unbearable life. Life was miserable, and I was unaware that I had other options.

During my abuse and isolation, my friends were being removed from their homes and put into foster care for the same treatment I received. The difference was most of them did not come to America with their biological parents; they came with other relatives. This made it easy for the Office of Health and Human Services to say someone mistreated them, but it was hard for me. I never considered calling 9–1–1 because my upbringing would not allow me to turn my parents into the system, and I also didn’t think anyone would believe me. We regard my parents as prominent people in my community, so I thought killing myself would be better for everyone. For months, every time I crossed that bridge, I thought about ending my life. However, my Christian upbringing saved my life. I was born into a Presbyterian family and grew up in the church, and the pastors in my church often preached sermons saying those who end their own life would not go to heaven. I wanted to go to heaven. My desire for eternal life with God kept me from carrying out the act of taking my own life. For almost 20 years, the thought of suicide was a distant memory. Because of the challenges I faced at my parents’ hands; the family wasn’t necessary. I didn’t feel loved, and I sure didn’t believe I needed them to live my life. Then one day, when I was in college, my Professor challenged my belief about family. He asked each student to write what we believe are essential values and share them with the rest of the class. It shocked me to hear so many people list family as the number one or number two most valuable thing in their lives. Everyone seemed to value family but me.

I looked down at my list, and family was at the bottom. It almost didn’t make a list at all! I sat dumbfounded, then suddenly I understood something was very wrong in my life. My friends and my career had a higher priority in my life than my family, and I needed to find out why.

Years passed, but my family situation and how I viewed it hadn’t changed. In 2002, my daughter Marnaa was born, and although she was my family, we never got the chance to bond. I was young, busy chasing my dreams and trying to prove myself to my parents, all while keeping count of the wrongs committed against me in my heart. I had no room to bond with her because my heart was full of hurt and pain. It wasn’t until 2016, when I had my son, Muoch that I truly understood how necessary and important family is. It was Muoch’s birth that helped me see my kids are the most important people in my life, and it was then I also realized that I, too, was the most important person in my parents’ lives. With this realization, I acknowledged that my daughter still needed bonding too, and from that day on, our relationship steadily grows stronger every day. There is a saying, “You don’t understand a mother’s love until you have your kids.” No matter how many kids you have, you always have enough love for all of them. As your family grows, your capacity to love grows in direct proportion, and I understand now. I would die for my kids, and I know my mother would die for me.

When I reflect on our refugee camp days, I see how my mom gave up her livelihood so that my siblings and I could live. Not only that, but I saw how she cared for my daughter the night we brought her home from the hospital, and it all made sense. After that, forgiving my mother came naturally. I didn’t struggle to forgive her; it just happened. There was no reason to discuss it, so we didn’t. I just understood. My mom is my everything, just as my kids are everything to me.

Despite being in a new country, being married very young, and having a baby when I was still a child myself, I knew I still had to get my education. Ever since my Father planted the seed of education in my mind in 1992, I desired to become better. I worked hard to put myself through nursing school, and I’m proud to say in 2009, I graduated from nursing school and was commissioned in the Army Nurse Corps. I was 23 years old, with a 7-year-old child. Against all odds, I am now a Captain and a nurse in the United States Army. I learned resiliency, and I survived everything else I had been through in life, so I thought I could survive anything. I was dead wrong!

In 2014, I remarried and gave birth to two beautiful boys who are now two and four years old; this union made me the mother of three beautiful children. I was in an abysmal relationship for seven years, and during this time, I suffered mental and emotional abuse, and my husband neglected me beyond my imagination.

His words were sharper than a two-edged sword, and he cut me down every chance he got. I prayed for the courage to stand up for myself, strength to endure the abuse, and faith to believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, but none of that propelled me to leave him. I always dreamed of giving my children the world, including being raised by both parents in the same house, so I did everything I could to keep our family unit intact. There was no way I could allow my boys to grow up without their father, so I stayed even though I was miserable.

After two years of soul searching and therapy, I realized I stayed in my marriage out of fear; fear of being a single parent again, fear of being seen as a failure, fear of being alone, fear of my husband, and cultural-based fears. The thought of raising my kids on my own tormented me so much that I lost myself, and it nearly put me in the grave yet again. I finally decided that enough was enough, and I would not subject myself to verbal, emotional, and mental abuse and manipulation. Nor would I become a victim to the cultural systems and rules that govern our community to keep people like me down. Fear crippled me for 33 years, and I wanted to take back my power. It was time to get help.

In December 2019, I began seeing a therapist through the Army’s Intensive Outpatient Therapy program. After hearing my story, my therapist and battle buddies encouraged me to write a memoir about all of my experiences and traumas, including; my refugee camp trauma, family trauma, the early years of my arranged marriage, marital injury, deployment trauma, and the things that have come out of it.

It’s now time for me to assert my existence unapologetically; it’s time for me to speak up. There are other girls and women who are going through what I went through right now. I hope my story gives them the strength and courage to rise above their current circumstances. I pray it inspires them to speak out against the injustice they face, and I hope my story changes the world.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?

War forced my family to migrate from South Sudan to Itang Refugee Camp, Ethiopia, where we lived from 1987 to 1991. My mother told me we moved to Itang right after my sister Nyabuom was born in 1987. It makes sense because the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) soldier’s waged war against one of their leaders named Commander William Nyuon Bany. Nyuon escaped to our village in Maiwut, and the war followed him there. During the war, houses, clinics, stores, crops, and hospitals burned to the ground; rebels used machetes to blind cattle, expediting their death, and they stole the rest of our cattle, leaving our village pillaged and in ashes. Even worse, they killed entire families. By the end of it all, it is said that over 5,000 people died. The war caused fear and led to hunger amongst many of the villagers, including my family, so my parents moved to Itang to seek refuge, food, and safety. Once we left Itang, we migrated to Dimma Refugee Camp, Ethiopia, in 1991. My life in the camp was sad but exciting at the same time. It was sad because I realized that we had nothing; we lived by the hands of the United Nations and the Ethiopian government. The U.N. even rationed our food and water, and we had no means to cook the food they gave us. We didn’t have clothes on our backs or shoes on our feet, yet we regularly walked for miles to gather wood from the forest. Regardless, it was an exciting time in my life because I had no worries, and I wasn’t responsible for anyone or anything. I was a kid, and all I wanted to do was play and do what kids did. Even though we had nothing, it was in Dimma Refugee Camp where I had the best time of my life. I didn’t have the things I have in America now, and I wasn’t aware many of them existed while I was in the camp. Still, when I think back on my childhood, I reflect fondly on my experiences and have a sense of gratitude for my time at Dimma because I know how far God has brought my family and me. My Father was a straight-up alcoholic during our entire time in the camp. If I can be honest, I would say our family was the poorest of the poor because of his alcohol addiction. Dad did anything to get alcohol, including selling our food, our blankets, and our sheets. He begged and borrowed to support his drinking habit and promised that he would pay whoever back with our rations. One time he even put up our hut house as collateral for alcohol. A hut house that my mother built with her own hands while pregnant. Everyone recognized our family in the camp because of my dad, and it wasn’t in a good way. Because of my dad’s drinking, my mother did the job of two people for the entire seven years we were at the camp, all while birthing kids. As a child, they accustomed me to a lifestyle where we received food twice a month from unknown people who didn’t look like us. Because of the civil war in my native country, my family left their land and homes to seek safety at an Ethiopian refugee camp. We didn’t have land to cultivate or jobs in this camp to earn money to purchase necessities. We relied solely on other people for our sustenance. The good thing was, I was unaware I was missing anything until I came to the United States. I thought everyone else around the world was living the same way I was living for my entire life up to this point. I was unaware of how different my circumstances compared to many parts of the world.

At the camp, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the United Nations (U.N.), cared for us. They provided us with food, water, and protection, and they brought us gently used clothes and shoes. Being given clothes was like receiving sugar during rations; it didn’t happen often, but it delighted everyone when it did. The U.N. brought us rations every 15 days, on the last day of the month and the 15th of the month. The three primary food groups provided by the World Food Program were carbohydrates, fat, and protein. We received maize and sometimes wheat as our main carbohydrates; we received oil as the fat, and we received peas or beans for the protein. Besides the main staples, we also received salt. There were only four water taps available to supply water to over five thousand people. The U.N. programmed the fixtures to turn on three times per day: morning, afternoon, and evening, and they only ran for two hours before shutting off. Many people didn’t have wristwatches to tell the time, but we all could tell when the taps were going to open and when they were about to close.

As a girl, I became very good at predicting time. If my brother, I or my mother didn’t leave early enough or failed to send our water jugs ahead with a family member or neighbor, our family would have to walk to the mountains or to the Sobat River, which flows through Sudan and Ethiopia and merges into the River Nile, to retrieve drinking and bathing water for the day. We tried to always leave on time. This was important because thousands of families gathered around four water taps to collect water three times a day, every day; it was a full-time job and a real challenge

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

Fresh out of the boat (FOB) is a term used in the African community to define someone who recently arrived in the western world, specifically in the United States of America (USA). My Father, Peter Tongyik Doluony, and my mother, Martha Nyachar Duer, were both in their 40s. My siblings and I ranged from 18 years old to 6 months old when we left Dimma Refugee Camp in Ethiopia. Our family of eight, including my parents, four brothers, a sister, and myself, arrived in New York City, New York, on the evening of June 16, 1999. Nyabuom, my younger sister, did not come to America with us. She was living at another camp called Sharkolle with our cousin Nyamal after Nyamal’s husband passed away.

My Father was ecstatic that he finally brought his family to this great nation where almost everyone in Africa wants to be. He had achieved the “American Dream.” I was too young to understand the importance of his dream, but I sensed it was significant because it was the dream of every South Sudanese man in the refugee camps. The men all left their villages in South Sudan on foot so their children could be safe from the Sudanese Civil War, have food to eat, and go to school and get an education. Many of them also hoped they could give their families a fresh start in life in a new country, but my Father did it. He was now living his dream. On the way to America, I remember baba telling my brother Koang and I what he wanted us to study when we got here. I could hear the excitement in his voice when he told me he wanted me to become an Accountant. I had no idea what an Accountant was or what an Accountant did, but he told me I was to work at a bank and be in charge of lots of money. There were not too many career choices available to refugee children like myself, but my dad was excited about this career which excited me. Initially, it sounded good, but I realized his dream wasn’t the same dream I had for myself. As a kid, I wanted to be a doctor-specifically, a pediatric doctor and I was going to pursue that. Koang was nine when my dad told him he wanted him to play professional basketball. Koang grew to be 6 feet 7 inches, and he became the tallest person in our family by the time he graduated high school. According to baba, “He is destined to play ball.” baba’s prophecy for Koang came true. Koang later earned a full scholarship to play basketball for Indiana State University and was very close to being drafted into the National Basketball Association, or NBA. I genuinely believe that had Koang been in a family with connections and resources, he would have played professional basketball. I don’t remember what my father told the rest of my siblings, but I am positive he talked to them. He had big dreams for us all. The only reason my father brought us to America was to get us closer to fulfilling our dreams of becoming successful, which would change our family legacy forever. When we arrived in New York City, New York, I remember sitting in the airport waiting to catch our connecting flight to Rochester, New York, where we would settle as refugees. Our plane departed late in the evening, so I sat mesmerized in my seat, taking in the magnificent city view from the air; I fixed my eyes on the window the entire short flight, not wanting to miss a single thing. I’m not sure if it was NYC or Rochester’s view, but I have imprinted the city lights in my mind and my heart for over 20 years. The view was unlike anything my refugee child’s mind has ever seen before, and I was in awe! It was perfect and picturesque, just what I imagined heaven to look like. I still rate it at the top of my list of the most beautiful and memorable scenes I have ever experienced in my life. I’m feeling nostalgic just thinking about it. A middle-aged white woman named Jan was waiting for us when we got off the plane. I assumed our sponsor, Karen hired her to pick us up. She loaded all eight of us into a big white van, and we headed for her home. I don’t remember being at her house, but my mother told me we stayed with Jan for three days. She said we even flooded Jan’s house because we couldn’t figure out how to turn off the water faucet, and the tub overflowed! I guess we thought the tub would shut off itself. The part I remember vividly during the first few days of being in America was when we arrived at our new home for the first time. My siblings and I, probably our mother, too, saw things we never had in Africa. To start, the two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment seemed way too big for our family. My parents shared one bedroom with my six-month-old baby sister, my three younger brothers shared the second bedroom, and my brother Kueth and I shared the living room. Our parents put two double-sized beds in the living room and placed a curtain between my brother for privacy and me. We lived in this house on Plymouth Avenue for seven months. It was everything we could ever want and more. On the first night in our new apartment, we saw boxes of supplies they left in the house for us, and my brothers and I got curious. My three younger brothers and I raced into the bedroom where the packages were and tore the boxes and bags open. I am unsure whether our sponsor explained how to use this stuff to our parents, but we didn’t get the information, so we immediately opened up everything! We sorted through the items, trying to figure out what they were and how to use them.

The one thing we couldn’t figure out was baby diapers. My parents received educational material about baby diapers before boarding the flight to America, but of course, we kids had no clue on what to do with them. We took out a diaper and stretched, pulled, and looked at it in amazement, and when we couldn’t figure out what it was for, we put it aside on the floor, and one by one, we grabbed the next diaper, wondering if it differed from the other. We opened every single diaper! As a mother now, I can’t imagine how much it cost to replace the diapers we ruined. The Pari Pads also mesmerized us, and they suffered the same fate as the diapers. My brothers and I opened every single one of them and even tore it all the way through until we covered the entire floor with white cotton. Then we picked up the cotton, took them to the bathroom, and soaked them in the tub to see what would happen next. When I later learned what they were for, I realized Karen probably bought them for my mother and me because we were the only women in our family. I hadn’t even started menstruating.

Our next challenge was toothpaste, lotion, and shampoo. If I said we misused them, it would be an understatement! We put them in places they did not belong. I had never even seen a bottle of shampoo or a lotion before coming to America. I put lotion on my little brother Goy’s head and struggled to wash the shampoo from my other brother Gamma’s hands because I put way too much on. Everything became slithery and bubbly all at once. It seemed no matter how much I rinsed, the bubbles kept reactivating. The struggle was real! It took my parent’s help because we couldn’t get the soap to stop. At the camp, we only had bar soap. We used it for washing clothes, as body wash, and as a shampoo too. It was difficult coming from a refugee camp in Africa, then being dropped off in an industrial country like America. There was very little we understood about our new life, and the transition was challenging. My heart goes out to every refugee that has ever come to America.

My favorite memory of us struggling to adapt to our new life was when we tried to cook ice cream. We thought it was dough used for Kop, a South Sudanese dish made of fermented dough, but of course, it failed miserably! After we sat it out, it turned into liquid, something we had never seen before. I remember my mom asking a family friend where she could buy corn flour to add to it, and that was when we learned it wasn’t what we thought it was. It’s funny looking back now but learning how to cook and eat unfamiliar food was a real challenge.

My siblings and I would eat Rice Crispy cereal for days and days on end because it reminded us of a Nuer food called Wal-Wal. It is a sweet corn flour cereal eaten mostly for breakfast. We prepare Wal-Wal by mixing corn flour and water and letting it sit to make a dough. Then we add dry corn flour to the dough and mix it with wet fingers to create balls that resemble couscous. Once we form enough balls, we add them to boiling water until cooked; then, we add sugar. After we dissolve the sugar in the Wal-Wal, we scoop it into a bowl and pour milk over it. It is delicious! We serve Wal-Wal hot while Rice Crispy cereal is cold, but they have something in common; both foods are similar in appearance, and both require milk and sugar. One day Karen, our sponsor, brought us a Pepperoni pizza, but we did not receive it well-especially my brothers. When we picked up a slice, the cheese stretched to arm’s length, and this did not settle well with our stomachs or minds. To make matters worse, the grease just sat on top of the pizza slice, which was also a turn-off. We have nothing like it in South Sudan or Ethiopia, and we were unfamiliar with cheese on the dough, so we refused to eat it.

Pizza is one of the most popular foods in America, but people who have never eaten pizza before have to work their way into it by starting it slowly and eventually eating full slices. If not, they may choke on the cheese. It’s not the most welcoming food to immigrants, and we think pizza is gross and disgusting. I am the most food adventurous person in our family, so if anyone could try new food, it was me. There are very few foods that I won’t try as long as it looks and smells good, but the pizza was not one of them. Even I didn’t like the way the cheese stretched. Even today, you will only find me eating pizza if someone else purchases it for me. You will never hear me say, “I’m hungry for pizza,” it’s just not my thing.

My siblings have similar attitudes towards trying new foods, which means they don’t want to try them. My parents and I recognized it would be difficult for them to adjust to American foods because they wouldn’t even eat foods cooked by women outside of me and my mother in the camp. Three of my brothers, Kueth, Koang, and Gamma, are what we call “smellers” and put nothing in their mouths before they smell it. If the smell is not pleasant to them, they will not eat it, period. This trait used to drive our mother crazy, and frankly, it was hard because families often share foods in our culture. Imagine living in an environment where food was already scarce, yet they still wouldn’t eat another woman’s food, even if the women brought it to our house. So, it was no surprise that they had difficulty adjusting to American cuisine. The second most memorable thing about our first few months in America was my time in school. My brother Kueth was our translator enroute to America. Kueth had completed ten grades in Ethiopia, and his English was good enough that our family never needed an interpreter for everyday communication. We arrived in the summer, so schools were out, but our sponsor enrolled us in summer school. I remember the bus ride to and from school in the same white van driven by Jan. I have no recollection of exactly what I learned during summer school, learning to speak English and going to the playground. Unlike Kueth and my Father, my English was very minimal. My brother Kueth and I attended Jefferson High School when the fall came. It was an old brick building full of immigrants and had tight security entering the building. We underwent body scans and backpack searches every single day. I didn’t understand the magnitude of it then, but now I’m glad they did that.

My first friends were a boy from Bosnia and a girl from Somalia. I don’t remember the boy’s name, but I remember waiting for the bus together and eating ice creams. He bought me my first Zebra Cake and Strawberry Eclair ice cream. Strawberry Eclair Ice cream bars are still my favorite today. My other friend’s name was Patuma from Somalia. Patuma was the gorgeous girl I have ever met. She has a beautiful heart and a contagious personality. We spent lots of time together, especially in gym class. Because she was from Somalia, she always wore outfits that covered her entire body except for her face; it’s their traditional clothes for women, which I didn’t understand at first. Gym class was the place I saw her wear regular clothes.

She was one person I missed the most when I left Jefferson High. I have thought about Patuma for many years, and I wonder what she is up-to-now. Did she get married or have kids? Does she have an exciting career saving lives or traveling around the world? I would not recognize Patuma even if she appeared in front of me now; however, she will forever have a place in my heart. She welcomed me and introduced me to a world and people that were foreign to me, and she accepted me when I was struggling with who I was in a place I did not fit in. She saw my heart when others could only focus on my appearance, and she is the reason I love Rochester, New York, just as I love Dimma Refugee Camp. I thought about Rochester, NY, for many years after I left. Some of the most incredible memories I have from Rochester were when my brothers and I learned to ride bikes and go down to the neighborhood candy store after school. We had many falls from those bikes, but we had always got back on. Another significant memory was when my mother and I walked to Tops, a supermarket at least 2 miles away. We weren’t strangers to walking on foot; that was what we did in Dimma. At Tops, we bought groceries as if we had a car in the parking lot! Mom would tie up the groceries in plastic bags tightly and filled them into several files. She did the same for me. She put one file on her head, the other on her right hand and her left hand. I did the same. This is a South Sudanese tradition used by women to carry water jugs, foods, or dried woods gathered from the forest for cooking. It was not new to us, but the American people; it was shocking. Cars slowed down as they approached us, watched, and sped off. Sometimes our eyes would catch each other as they drove by, and I wondered why they’d stared at us. Now I can see it was unusual. We were lucky to have met a few South Sudanese families in Rochester, but the first person they introduced us to was Mr. Tuany. Mr. Tuany is a distant cousin of ours and a native of Rochester. He would often give us rides to the supermarkets or take us wherever we needed to go. He was also the one who taught me everything I needed to know about being a young woman in America. Mr. Tuany showed me how to mop the house, clean the stove and the refrigerator, clean the bathroom, including the tub and shower, and taught me what was appropriate for a young girl like me to wear and what was inappropriate. He was patient and took his time helping my family learn many other things, like the best places to buy groceries to make South Sudanese food. Mr. Tuany also introduced us to other Nuer people in town who became our friends and family away from home. He was so kind towards my family and me, and I grew very fond of him.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

Yes, I want to express my sincere gratitude to the following individuals who have made a significant impact on my life and the lives of my family members during the first few years. My first special thank you goes to our sponsors, Karen and John Goodyear, from Rochester New, York. Knowing how the system works now, I know it is difficult finding someone to sponsor such a big family. I know it was a tough job because they were our voice. They took our Father and mother everywhere, including to help them apply for food stamps and Medicaid. School registration, they did that. They ensured we had a living space before we arrived, and they try their best to get us the food we might like. I want to thank them for their enormous heart, selfless service, and patience. May God reward them for their endurance.

Next, I am grateful to Mr. Tuany and his foster family, Michael and Joann Prosser, who provided us with clothes from their upstairs bedroom. Being at their house every Sunday afternoon looking through bags of clothes was one of my brothers’ and I best memories. We couldn’t fathom how many clothes there were in their home, and they allowed us to try on all of them and take whatever fit us. Michael taught our Father how to drive a car and gave us a grand tour of Rochester. Michael truly has a heart for Third World people. I want to say thank you for being a light to those who live in the darkness. Literally!

A special thank you goes out to Mother and Father Linda & Larry Heuertz out of Omaha, Nebraska. I don’t know how they find the hearts to love an entire immigrant community, but they do. I know God has a special place in His right hand for them. As grandparents to our kids now, they still express the same love to them as they did to us during our Hope Center Days. In my eyes, they are my HOPE DEALERS. They taught us all that God has a plan for us using Jeremiah 29:11. To this day, it’s still my favorite scripture, especially when I am in dismay. Thank you, and by God’s grace, may their days belong on this earth. Finally, I want to thank all my English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers, especially my ESL teacher at Northwest High School. I don’t remember her name, but every time I look over my High School graduation pictures, I see her next to me, and I whisper a prayer especially for her. She is a special human being. She taught me to read and speak, so I could eventually comprehensively put a sentence together to write my story. Thank you

So how are things going today?

Things are going well, very well. I am doing what I love — a mother to my three beautiful children, serving my community through Ross Girls Breaking the Silence, LLC, traveling as a nurse, and advocating for women’s rights

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

On June 16, I woke up to an unknown world. A world that many South Sudanese women have been waiting for a very long time. They have waited for a world where they may speak up about the most traumatic and painful experiences they have been keeping locked away in their hearts and minds because our culture would not allow them to talk about it. This powerful new generation of young women, unlike the previous generations, is speaking up and taking names. South Sudanese women are breaking their silence regarding unfavorable cultural norms and practices. Their message to the South Sudanese community is clear; they want those condoning rape crimes and engaging in victim-blaming to know that they are not their mothers, and they will no longer be silent about being violated. They pledged to take the entire community down if they have to because they deserve respect and protection. I stand with them. After hearing their stories, I threw myself into serving South Sudanese women by launching RSS Girls Break the Silence, LLC. A non-profit organization that provides mentorship to women worldwide connects individuals with mental health counselors in their communities, delivers community education using social media, and encourages others to speak up about their past traumas to promote healing. This was something I was a privilege to receive through the Army Intensive Outpatient Therapy. I was blessed to have the support I had, and I wanted to return the favor. Mentorship is my favorite. I can see many young women and men and guide them through life. It’s a privilege.

You have first-hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?

I was 14 years old when my family immigrated to the U.S. I have no clue about the struggles they had to go with the U.S immigration system. However, listening to my friends, I can’t imagine how taxing the process is. First, the process takes a long time; there is no reason it should take someone more than three years to come to America. When we arrived in 1999, one of my sisters did not come with us. It took my Father five years, thousands of dollars, and multiple trips back to Ethiopia to bring her. By the time she got here, she had already birthed a child. Second, it’s a nightmare once you get to America on a Visa. You almost have to marry someone to get permanent status!

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

I genuinely believe “We are what we think, and what we think, we become.”

I found the following principles and attributes of successful people and implemented them in my life.

1. You must have a clear vision, possess discipline, and be consistent in your actions.

2. Surround yourself with the right people for support and encouragement when you feel defeated. They will keep you on the right path to reach your goal.

3. Stay away from debt and learn sound financial principles. I was 87,000 dollars in debt when I discovered money-expert Dave Ramsey. I vowed I would not leave the army until my debts were paid.

4. Have faith in yourself and in the process.

5. No one becomes successful by accident. Especially someone like me coming from a faraway refugee camp in Ethiopia.

With my newly acquired knowledge, I reprogrammed my mind to see things from a unique perspective, and I experienced a higher level of awareness. My thoughts, ideas, and situations were no longer rigid but flexible. Nyajuok Tongyik, as I once knew her, was no longer the same. I was changing, and I was no longer comfortable with where I was in life. I sought environments and people who were conducive to my growth. The status quo was no longer enough; I wanted more; I deserved more.

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

Absolutely! I LOVE this country. America is a dreamland, and it will always remain that way. It provides hope to people around the world who might otherwise be in dismay. I am grateful for this country; that why I served in the United States Army for 11 years. It was my small token to say “Thank You.” For hosting my family and me. Here are three things that make me optimistic about this country’s future

1. America accepts and welcomes everyone who has a vision for themselves or for their country. They educated the most prominent foreigners through international studies, and they will continue to support that through the educational system. This is a tremendous contribution to the world.

2. America encourages immigrants to keep their identity. They aren’t threatened when an African who is also an American citizen becomes successful and identifies herself as African. America encourage that. That’s why they have China Town in the middle of Manhattan, New York. Other countries do not do this.

3. Democracy! This is the number one reason why America will always remain on top of the world. Freedom of speech is a God-given right, and many other countries like South Sudan do not understand this concept, but America does. For this reason, I am optimistic that America will always attract the brighter and the most intelligent individuals all over the world to become Americans.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Oprah Winfrey: I admire her for her advocacy and zeal.

Tyler Perry: He is an amazing storyteller. I want him to tell my story. My story is not mine alone; it’s a story of the South Sudanese women, the story of African women. By telling my story, he would liberate a whole society for generations to come. I am writing a book because I needed closure, but I am also writing it for South Sudanese Women who need healing. We are a traumatized nation that believes in silencing the masses. I don’t want to be silent and more.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

Followers can further follow my work online on:

Instagram #ROSSGirlsBreakingTheSilence

Youtube: Nyajuok Tongyik

Facebook: ROSS Girls Breaking the Silence

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you for allowing me to share my story

Nyajuok Tongyik Doluony


[email protected]

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