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Former ‘Lost Boy’ builds new life in Arizona, plans to reunite his family

Santino Nyang with his daughter during a visit in Uganda. (Santino Nyang Photo)

PHOENIX — Fifteen years ago, Santino Nyang came to Phoenix. He was an orphan, a “Lost Boy,” among thousands of others rescued from war-torn Sudan and brought to the United States.

“The government militia of Sudan went to the villages and they were killing everybody in the village,” he said, remembering as if it were yesterday.

His mother had premonition and told him, “Run as fast as you can.” He did.

Nyang was the quickest in his village and took off for the forest when the rebels began burning down his village.

His father and sister were murdered and his mother would die of illness.

“I walked for three months… with no shoes… not even a blanket,” Nyang said.

Starvation and dehydration took other children and refugees crossing the hot desert. Dysentery took its toll on Nyang. “I had to have a liver transplant after I arrived in the U.S.”

Nyang entered the U.S. in 2000 unable to speak English. But he learned and went on to graduate from Paradise Valley High School.

He landed his first job as a bag boy at Fry’s grocery store on 40th Street and Thunderbird Road in Phoenix and worked his way up within a year.

By 2003, Nyang had become an American citizen.

He returned home in 2010, he said, where a wife was waiting for him.

His uncle had chosen the woman and they soon had two children, a boy and a girl. The girl is two years old and the boy is four and U.S. citizens by birth.

“My son is okay with my living away,” he said, “but my daughter gets really mad if I do not call her every morning at 7 o’clock (9 p.m. Arizona time).”

The family is separated by 9,000 miles and Nyang is worried civil unrest is dangerously close to his loved ones.

“I am going to go back there and get them,” he said, but the cost to fly to Uganda is easily $2,600 one way. To fly out, pick up his family and fly home will run well around $10,000.

There is another cost he has to consider: Arranging his wife’s legal entrance into the U.S. could take two to five years and another $10,000.

“He wants to bring his family here to the U.S.,” said Doug Roller, store manager where Nyang works. “Santino is an amazing person and an awesome part of our team,”

For two weeks in a row, colleagues have held fundraisers at the grocery store, making root-beer floats for donations. They have raised about $2,000. They plan to do it again Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Donations can also be made at a GoFundMe site for the effort.

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