“Congratulations William Ramadalla, you have been selected in this year’s visa lottery”. Ramadalla flooded with mixed emotions, knew this was his chance for freedom and opportunity for a better life. On the other hand, he knew he would be leaving behind his family and his daughters. William was attending school in northern Sudan, his family who live in the war torn South, thought it was safer for him to live up in northern Sudan because of the war.
The war started to get more intense, “The northern Republic of Sudan persecuted the southern people, even though the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and Movement rose up to try to stop them. The North bombed southern cities and watched the country’s borders, killing any southern Sudanese-men, women or children”. William,20, did not feel safe in northern Sudan. He decided to take a train to the Egyptian border. Upon arrival, he used bribes to get a passport to enter Egypt. An individual guard, once paid enough, let William through. After nine years of being on waiting list to come to the United States, William was sent to Buffalo, NY in 1999.
After a year in Buffalo, he decided to move to Iowa, where a few of his high school friends relocated to. His friends introduced him to a refugee church, St. Ambrose in downtown Des Moines. Their mission statement is, “We are St. Ambrose Cathedral parish of the Diocese of Des Moines are a diverse community of the rich and poor, disadvantaged and hungry, young and elderly, visitors, and those seeking refuge”. William felt welcome at the St. Ambrose Cathedral parish and connected with a mentor named sister Pat. Sister Pat introduced William to the Department of Human Services- Refugee services.
I got the Opportunity to interview one of the staff who helped William back in 2001, his name is Michael Gai. Michael stated their mission statement is, “Through dedicated service and statewide coordination the Bureau of Refugee services empowers all refugees to meet their goals as they enrich Iowa." The services they provide are only available for 60 months, giving refugees plenty of time to adjust to the American life. He recalls landing William a job at Lutheran Hospital, which William is currently still working at. Michael and his organization are welcoming and provide services such as health care, medicaid, food assistance, and house placement. They are open Monday through Friday 8 to 4 pm and can be reached at 515-867-5600.
William, once adjusted, decided its time to go back to the homeland. He has not spoken to his parents in over 15 years and has not seen his daughters. In 2004 even though it was still not safe, he flew back and reunited with his family. He recalls his brothers keeping Ak-47s with them at all times for protection. He spent the summer back in South Sudan and was able to exchange information to keep contact with his family while back in the United States.
Fast forward to the year 2018, William added five more kids with his current wife. His two oldest, Remo and Mude are currently enrolled in college, University of Northern Iowa and DMACC. His middle daughter, Rina, is planning on attending the Iowa State University. The second youngest, Juan, through her gifted speed has already earned a scholarship for any University she chooses to attend. The last child, Kenyi, plans to attend University of Iowa. William, until this day, still keeps in touch with Michael Gai. He is thankful every day for freedom and opportunity. “The life I was living during the war is a life I don’t wish upon anyone, I am thankful every day that my kids have opportunity for better life and being able to send my kids to school.”