Author: Griffin-Nolan, Ed
Date published: June 23, 2010
Dominic Diing left Sudan at age 7 in 1987 and has not been back to his African homeland since. This November the former Syracuse University student, who now teaches business and math in Buffalo's high schools, will be returning to visit his mother and the village where his childhood abruptly ended during a civil war 23 years ago.
Diing's return to Sudan is more than a sentimental journey. He will be checking on the 34 orphans he has been sponsoring with his own funds, and gathering perspectives from his homeland about an important political matter-a referendum on independence that is scheduled to take place next January.
Like many Southern Sudanese in exile, his main concern these days is with the referendum to decide whether Sudan remains united or divides into two nations: Northern and Southern. A Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army and the Sudanese Government in Khartoum brought a formal end to hostilities between the two sides, the longest civil war in Africa.
The agreement gave Southern Sudan six years with an autonomous government. Those six years are drawing to a close, and on Jan. 9, 2011, the citizens will have the opportunity to decide for the separation of the south from Sudan or remain united with the government that is currently based in Khartoum.
The agreement also gives Sudanese in exile, including the 700 or so in Central New York, the opportunity to vote. Diing wants to make sure his fellow Sudanese in the Syracuse area are fully aware of what's at stake. To that end, he is promoting a gathering at the Spaghetti Warehouse, 689 N. Clinton St., on Sunday, June 27. Beginning at 5:30 p.m., the evening will feature folk music, entertainment and presentations about the logistics and the politics of the upcoming referendum.
John Dau, a local Sudanese American and producer of the acclaimed 2006 film and book, God Grew Tired of Us, will address the gathering along with Maureen Sieh, a local journalist who has traveled frequently to Africa. Diing has also invited Ezekhiel Gatkvoth, the ambassador to the United States from Southern Sudan, to speak about the situation back home.
Proceeds will benefit two organizations, one to assist humanitarian efforts in Sudan and a second to facilitate local Sudanese participation in the referendum. The Aid and Care for Africa organization (www.aidandcareforafrica.org) provides funding for orphanages, schools and medical clinics in Southern Sudan. Diing tithes 15 percent of his own salary to that effort each month and as such has been assisting with the creation of a school in his home village of Makuach.
The second organization, formed by Diing last year, Get Ready for Southern Sudan Referendum (www.grfssr.org), seeks to educate and prepare the Southern Sudanese community in upstate New York to participate in the balloting next January. "The Sudanese in America can vote," said Diing, "but we have some challenges. Ninety percent of us who are here were born in villages and we left while we were young. We have no ID. We need to find a way to get people their identification papers so they can vote.
"Secondly, we must go to the state capital in Albany to vote. We have a lot of families with children, and to get to Albany will not be easy for them, so we have to raise the funds and make the plans to help people get to vote.
"The Sudanese in America must get ready," continued Diing. "We need to go to Southern Sudan to get the points of view of the people there before the referendum. We need to discuss what we are voting for. We need to see what we can do to get ID for people who need it, and we need to plan for transportation."
After all the buildup, once the vote is taken, what outcome does Diing expect? "We predict there will be a lot of conflicts," he answered. "The Southern Sudanese want separation, but the north doesn't like that. We fear the conflicts, but on Jan. 9, I believe that Southern Sudan will vote for a new nation. It will be called 'New Sudan' or 'Southern Sudan' and our capital will be in Juba."
Diing invites the public to attend the June 27 event. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door, and can be purchased by contacting Diing at (716) 392-5496 or Anthoni Makur at 447-9003.