By Abby Hoover
In life, there are challenges and there is progress.
For Rol Deng Diing, Ambassador of Business Communications at the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, life started with a series of challenges.
Diing was born in the village of Malou, South Sudan. After losing his father in 1987, and enduring a series of wars, he and his family became refugees, living in camps in Sudan and Cairo.
“It was a challenge. I was born in war, my dad was born in war, also my grandpa,” Diing said. “But God has a way. You know, if you believe in your heart if there is something that you really want. And I’m so thankful and grateful to be here.”
Diing and his family had been captured during the war, and ended up in a refugee camp in Cairo for five years.
“It was rough to witness some things that humans don’t want to see, but I lived through it with my family,” Diing said.
In July 2000, Diing and his family of five began their journey to the United States, leaving Egypt on a refugee resettlement program funded by a loan from Catholic Charities.
He spent his first years in America setting his children up for success. With the limited education opportunities he had back home, he set out to make sure his children achieved their goals. Diing spent his early years working, with the goal of sending his children to college.
His daughter, Adeng, was seven when they moved to the U.S. She earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from Avila University in 2020 and recently married. His sons Amou and Dut also plan to continue their education. When he saw his childrens’ success, he decided to go back to school.
“We have had a problem in South Sudan since 1954, before independence from the British,” Diing said. “South Sudan was a Red Zone… but we came out of that challenge, that struggle. We paid for it. So I’m so happy to see my daughter have more success and more progress to continue living the American dream.”
Growing up, he told her what he observed as a migrant from South Sudan, through Egypt and to the U.S. He instilled in her a love of education to help her community, her family, and herself. He didn’t want to stay away from home, from his mother, but he made sacrifices to give his children a better life.
“She gave me a bachelor’s degree,” Diing said. “I’m so happy to see that, the first time in the history of my family. We never had someone in a school like my daughter.”
Diing began pursuing his Associate’s Degree in 2017, and started English as a Second Language (ESL) classes the same year.
“I didn’t know how to write. I didn’t know how to speak proper English,” Diing said, recognizing one of his ESL classmates who was in attendance at the July 26 Chamber Lunch and Learn.
In May, 2021, Diing graduated with an Associates Degree of Applied Science in Business Management from Metropolitan Community College.
Rounding out the year many of his dreams were finally realized, in November 2021, Diing also became a U.S. citizen.
Now, his next step toward progress includes working toward his Bachelor’s Degree at Northwest Missouri State University.
In life, there are challenges and there is progress.
“I have been away from South Sudan for 34 years,” Diing said. “That was not my will. I have spent 21 of them in the United States, eight years as a displaced person in Sudan – in my own country, I was living in a camp in my own country – and five years in Egypt as a refugee… It was not an easy journey for me to be here to stand in front of you.”
Diing is grateful for the influence his new American family has had on his life, such as Bobbi Baker-Hughes and Gil Hughes, who have known him and supported him for years.
After looking forward to the day for years, Diing headed to the airport to start the days-long journey back home – from Kansas City to Chicago, and finally to Juba Airport, where he was received by his family, wearing custom t-shirts and singing gospel music.
“It was tears over my eyes. I couldn’t believe that after 34 years, my family still remembers me,” Diing said.
His family, who now resides in Aweil Central, South Sudan, welcomed him home with a gathering of extended family and local officials. He met the children of his late brother and late uncle, and their families.
During his time in South Sudan, Diing, who was President of the U.S. Aweil East Community Association for five years, visited the other states of South Sudan, meeting with high profile officials about increasing access to water and technology in his country. He was honored to have productive conversations with the Vice President of Republic of South Sudan H.E Hussein Abdalabagi Ayii, Governor of N.B.G. State-Aweil Tong Akeen Ngor, and Commissioner of Aweil East Kiir Lual Yor.
He visited the memorial for his country’s founder, Dr. John Garang Mabior at the Ministry of Defense Headquarters.
“We didn’t get that freedom very easy. It was 21 years long war in Africa,” Diing said. “Kill 1.5 million people, 2 million people are scattered around the world, including me and my family. Some of them didn’t make it back.”
Diing said resources like gold, oil, diamonds and uranium are plentiful in his home country, as well as benefits of the Nile River.
During his time as association president, Diing’s goal was to build a school in Riang Mal Payam in Aweil East. While they were successful at fundraising and constructing the school, it faces challenges due to weather-related damage.
Diing’s family shared their memories, their songs and their home with their son. While visiting he married Achol Dut Garang, who has been living at the house he built in 2016 for five months while awaiting his arrival. He was married once before, an arranged marriage, but this time he wanted to marry for love.
Diing believes his visit revitalized his 82-year-old mother. She had promised him years ago that she would not die until she saw him and his children have a better life.
Diing purchased a seven acre farm in 2015, investing money in his family’s future. During his three month visit, he and his new wife cleared the land and planted crops. They grow sorghum, corn, okra and peanuts.
“Now blessing is coming,” Diing said proudly. “We have a problem with food, so I did that for my family and my community, but they need more resources to do this. People, you can see them, they get hungry. They don’t have anything, but I created a job for them now in my farm, and half of my check every month is going to this farm.”
Diing dug a well for his farm so people living and working nearby could have water to drink. While it’s not always clean because of wastewater, it is their only option.
Now, Diing’s version of progress exceeds the wildest dreams of the farm kid from a village of 260 people – plus cows – where he grew up. He plans to one day build his dream house for his new wife and their family, grow his farm, and visit home often.
Rol’s story is just one of the many refugee experiences in the Kansas City area. Each year, hundreds of refugees are resettled in Northeast, where they become neighbors, business owners, classmates, and friends.
He will continue to live with these words in mind: in life, there are challenges and there is progress.