Monday night we had one last dinner with our adopted son and brother, Wek, before he hopped on his flight Tuesday to head back home. I can’t believe it’s been 4 years since he first came into our lives straight from South Sudan to start his university education at ASU. When I was asked to become Wek’s host mom, I didn’t really know all it would entail. I knew there would be new responsibilities and that my family would gain a broader understanding and appreciation of the world, but I didn’t realize how much laughter, love and life we would share together.
Wek comes from a small village in northern South Sudan. His dad raised cattle and most of his family practiced this vocation for generations. This meant that the kids participated in the family business which ultimately meant they sacrificed an education. His dad wanted more for Wek so he sold some cows in order to pay for Wek’s school fees. This was a significant sacrifice to the family because not only did they lose necessary income, they also lost a laborer.
Wek took advantage of getting to go to school. He worked very hard and received the highest score in his country on the national exam for his graduating class! This earned him a full ride scholarship to ASU.
When he arrived in Phoenix, he had one small bag that held all his belongings. He couldn’t believe he had his own room and wasn’t sure about the shared living space. I remember him pointing to the oven and asking me if that was a “cooking machine”. I told him that’s what I call it too. I had to teach him how to use a washer, dryer, microwave, and debit card. His first trip to Walmart was “life changing”.
Our family enjoyed teaching him so many first experiences like watching a high school football game, making your own fountain drink at Circle K, playing Apples to Apples and cornhole, trying our favorite foods, and introducing him to Halloween and Thanksgiving. (Wek was quite the sight trick or treating as a giant chicken!) Just thinking about all these stories brings so much joy and laughter.
Life hasn’t been that easy for Wek. During his 4 years at ASU, he lost a brother, sister, and his dad. His 14-year-old sister died after getting Rabies from a dog bite. His dad passed away from cancer. Both of them might have had a different outcome if access to affordable transportation and healthcare was readily available.
Wek also went back to South Sudan one summer for an internship. He spent a week hiding in his room due to violence that erupted in Juba. All airlines were closed, and we had to work frantically with the State Department to get him and two of his friends evacuated. Days felt like weeks, and I vividly remember waiting for his texts to let me know he was okay. He was very brave, but I knew he was scared. Luckily, we got him out and back to Phoenix safely.
Most recently, Wek told me that his brother, Deng, called him from a tree while hiding in the bush. The military had come to his school for forced recruitment. Deng fled and stayed in hiding until Wek could advise him on what to do. He’s safe now, but this is just another reality for Wek.
Wek graduated from ASU with top honors in Economics. He is choosing to return to South Sudan because that is his home, and he wants to participate in rebuilding his country. He told us Monday night what he’ll miss most is us, city lights, a washing machine, and ASU. I laid in bed that night thinking about the darkness you experience when visiting many countries in Africa. Simple things we take for granted represent so much hope and potential. Wek knows he is not choosing an easier life, instead he is choosing a better life.
Wek shared his business plan with me called Wek’s Wheels. His goal is to develop a taxi service that will provide reliable transportation from rural villages to cities with needed services. Our family is really going to miss Wek, but I couldn’t be more thankful for the time I got to be his Arizona Mom. Who knows, one day Wek may become the President of South Sudan. He tells me that is his goal. I’ve learned not to underestimate the value of investing in youth and their dreams. I look forward to the day where my next career move is to become an advisor to the President of South Sudan.
If you’d like to help me buy one used car in South Sudan to help Wek kickoff Wek’s Wheels, please make a tax deductible online donation at https://www.facebook.com/pipelineworldwide/