Life in a war zone
Daniel Nyiang was born in the village of Wau in Sudan. At the time, the country was in a prolonged civil war, and Daniel’s parents worried for the safety of their five sons. “Young boys were frequently kidnapped and trained to be children soldiers,” Daniel said. When he was 7 years old, Daniel’s family fled to Cairo, Egypt, to live with distant relatives. One year later they emigrated to the U.S.
Far from home
The Nyiang family settled in Spokane, Wash. where Daniel and his brothers started learning to speak, read and write English. “I speak four languages: Arabic, Dinka, Swahili and English,” Daniel said. “English is by far the most difficult to learn.”
When Daniel was a sophomore in high school, he followed his older brother to Laurel, Mont., so that the older sibling could help tutor Daniel in English. Shortly afterward, his brother decided to return to Spokane; Daniel opted to stay. By then, Daniel was enrolled in Laurel High School and playing on the basketball team. “I loved playing basketball. My coach, Pat Hansen, offered to let me stay with his family. I was really close friends with Seth Kraft, and eventually I moved in with the Kraft family,” said Daniel.
Bounty from the earth
Lori and Brad Kraft, along with their kids Seth and Anna, introduced Daniel to life on a farm. Eager to learn Daniel found himself enjoying the routine. “I learned to irrigate, set water, and how to show pigs at the fair,” he said. One of the pigs Daniel sold at MontanaFair was purchased by a person who donated the pig back to Daniel to breed. “I ended up raising 11 piglets!” he laughed.
Dealing with adversity is something Daniel knows all too well. “Egyptians are very disrespectful of people with darker skin. When we lived there we went to private school and we had to dress a certain way. The kids did not like us at all. We would get spat on; that’s just how it was,” Daniel recalls. That resilience would prove important when Daniel tore his ACL playing basketball and needed to sit out a season to heal. And it was invaluable the following year when he tore his other ACL requiring a second surgery.
Eye on the prize
For Daniel, the immersion into American culture was also a lesson in the differences between how young people are raised. “I like America, but sometimes I see kids who are spoiled. My parents taught us to learn self-discipline and to do things on our own. Those lessons help you grow as a person,” he said.
Removing a barrier
Because of the complexity of the English language, Daniel struggled in the classroom. One of the teachers took note and took Daniel under her wing. “Miss Smith teaches English as a Second Language. She came to me and said, ‘Daniel, let’s set a goal and get you caught up on your credits and grades.’” Smith worked with Daniel daily, explaining, drilling and testing until Daniel could write and speak correctly. “Miss Smith is the reason I’m here, ready to graduate,” he said.
An appreciative soul
“I am so thankful for what everybody has done for me – the Thompsons, the Hansens and the Krafts plus all my teachers,” Daniel said. “What people have done is really, really big – I don’t know how to thank them, but I hope someday I can.”
After graduation, Daniel hopes to study business in college, starting at a two-year school so he can play basketball and then transferring to a four-year institution. “One day when I am older I would like to live in Sudan part of the time and in the U.S. part of the time,” he said. “But I will always come back to Laurel – this town has done so much for me.”