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Nyalilit Kok on fleeing South Sudan during civil war and helping refugees resettle in Buffalo

Nyalilit Kok
Nyalilit Kok

Nyalilit Kok fled Sudan in 1986 during the Second Sudanese Civil War, a war that lasted from 1983 to 2005.

After spending 12 years in a refugee camp in Uganda, Kok came to the United States and lived in Minnesota before settling in Buffalo. Kok works as a direct support professional for People Inc., helping people with disabilities. In her spare time she helps refugees settle here in Buffalo where the language, culture, and weather differences can be daunting.

She spoke to WBFO about her journey settling in Buffalo and advice for new Americans struggling to adapt to a country where everything is different.

Preston: What made you want to have a career in helping people?

Kok: I enjoy my job so much because it gives me joy looking at the difference that I make in their life. It’s not so much about the money. Every time I’m there I see the joy and how excited they are. They became my family and I just love helping them.

Preston: Talk about some of the women that inspire you.

Kok: I would say my mom, she inspires me. She was a strong woman. She helped raise me and my seven siblings and my dad was there but he is deceased. In Africa, just being able to raise eight children in the refugee camp it was a struggle.

Preston: What do you remember about being there?

Kok: I was born in South Sudan but we left South Sudan when I was maybe five years old, I was very little. I still remember when we left there because of the civil war. The civil war lasted for about 21 years. I still remember the life that we had in Sudan. It was a beautiful life. But coming back to Uganda as a refugee. The life there I will tell you was not easy. The first few years because I could not accept coming from a nice home, life was good to we were just given a bush [for a home].

Preston: When you came to America, were you excited, were you scared, what were you feeling?

Kok: It was a mixture of everything. I left most of my family there. I came with my two brothers and an uncle it was difficult at first.

Preston: What brought you here to Buffalo?

Kok: My sister came to Canada, she was in Mississauga. Then I asked people ‘what is the closest city that I could be close to my sister. They told me Buffalo, New York was the closest one to Toronto and Canada so I was without wasting time ‘Buffalo New York, here I come.'

Preston: What are some things that you’ve done to help New Americans settle here in Buffalo?

Kok: The lady that I’m helping right now she has three children she doesn’t speak English and she struggles. Since September until now I’m helping her with her kids, taking them to school, if they need to call her for anything, the school will call me. Any newcomers I just go and visit them and see if they need anything like going shopping it’s very difficult for them.

Preston: What advice would you have for new Americans settling here in Buffalo?

Kok: It’s tough but you do have people that can help and are willing to help even though America is a busy country, the help is there. They can reach out to us through their sponsors who know about their communities and I have volunteers that come and help newcomers settle.