South Sudanese Refugee Tells Story of Triumph at the Kean Human Rights Institute Conference
South Sudanese refugee Koang Doluony still remembers the despair he felt as a young child surrounded by hunger and chaos in a refugee camp.
“The level of suffering that I began to see as a kid put me in a position where I didn’t want to be here,” Doluony told hundreds of people who recently attended Kean University’s 11th Annual Human Rights Institute Conference, Seeking Refuge, Immigration and Forced Migration Around the World. “I didn’t see the point. Why would anybody want to be part of this, right here, what’s going on?”
Doluony said his life changed forever when his father offered him hope from the Bible – and his family moved to the United States, choosing to locate among the large South Sudanese community of Omaha, Nebraska, when he was nine years old.
It was his experience as a refugee in the United States that prompted him to establish the Omaha Talons Academy, giving South Sudanese youth coaching, discipline and hope through basketball, a sport the 6’ 8” Doluony played at Indiana State University.
“Omaha wasn’t ready systematically to take on the challenges of the Sudanese,” he said.
Doluony told the crowd that he believes in giving refugees the tools they need for self sufficiency.
Fellow speaker Sally Bruno does just that through her volunteer organization One Love One World, which supports refugee families in the local area with basic supplies.
“When you are following your heart, you don’t need to have everything laid out in front of you,” she told the crowd. “It is good to have a plan, but it is good to respond to events too.”
Also speaking at the Human Rights Conference was Donya Nasser, the 2015-2016 Youth Observer to the United Nations, who encouraged students to find a local advocacy organization they admire and ask to be the youth representative on their board.
Kean President Dawood Farahi, Ph.D., himself an immigrant from Afghanistan, urged students to make a difference in the lives of others.
“Every single one of you in this room has your roots in immigration,” Farahi said. “If that door is closed to anybody, you have no idea the suffering that they and their families will have to tolerate.”
The speakers each received a Human Rights Institute Award. Dolouny was named Outstanding Human Rights Activist; Bruno was honored as the Outstanding Human Rights Community Activist; and Nasser was named the Outstanding Human Rights Young Adult Activist.
Also receiving awards were Acting New Jersey Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet ’00 M.A., Ed.D., who received the Dr. Hank Kaplowitz Outstanding Human Rights Educator award, and the Human Rights Club at Warren Hills High School, which received the Outstanding Human Rights Student Activist award.
This year, each Conference attendee received a complimentary bar of soap from Sitti, a social enterprise that provides fair wages and employment opportunities to refugee women. The olive oil soap was handmade by women at the Jerash Refugee Camp in Jordan.
(L-R) Lauretta A. Farrell, D.Litt., director, Human Rights Institute at Kean University; Koang Doluony, founder, Omaha Talons Academy; Dawood Farahi, Ph.D., president, Kean University; Donya Nasser, 2015-2016 youth observer to the United Nations; Sally Bruno, founder, One Love One World