After his harrowing escape from murdering militias from Sudan and Ethiopia, young man arrives in Westford; studies English; graduates from Clark University; and started an internship with local state representative.
Among the staffers serving food at the Arciero and Eldridge grill was one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, who spent many years in two Red Cross refugee camps before ultimately landing in Westford.
Dan Nhial, 29, is an intern for state Rep. Jim Arciero. Nhial is motivated by a keen desire “to give back” to his adopted country after so many years of hell in Africa.
“There are some governments that are good and some that are bad,” said Nhial as he wove his take of horror. He wanted to work for the U.S. government after being rescued and flown stateside.
Playing in his village with his friends about 3 p.m. on day when he was 9, the Sudanese army barreled into the center and killed his family and all the village animals. Sudan was gripped by a civil war and Nhial had no recourse but to flee with some other young people into the rugged countryside.
He returned that night, “and no one was there.”
Several of his compatriots were crying, but they started a three-month journey in the bush toward a refugee camp in Ethiopia that was run by the United Nations.
Those under 17 years old were classified as unaccompanied minors.
Nhial spent four years there, and had “adapted” to camp life, when suddenly, he said, Ethiopian forces on the Sudanese border wanted to overthrow the government. It started all over again, he said.
“I spent three months with no food or water, eating leaves and grass,” said Nhial of his second forced escape into the bush. “People died,” he said. “There were air bombardments every day.”
Eventually he said he made it to Kenya, and a Red Cross camp where he stayed for the next nine years.
He attended a school in Kenya run by the United Nations, and started learning English.
Nhial was among 3,600 refugees that were flown from Kenya to the U.S. He wound up in Worcester where he went to school for two years, studying English. He took a college placement test, and received his degree in government from Clark University last spring.
He also spoke about his plight at Westford Academy, where Jean Owens and Donna Hackly heard him and offered to assist him.
“They became my new family and I made friends at Westford Academy,” said Nhial.
“This is a country of opportunity,” said Nhial. “I wanted to use my life experience to give back and learn from real life. I feel good about it.”