- Associated Press - Saturday, February 11, 2017

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - Mugahid Belil is living his American dream.

Tracy Noble, his tutor from the Literacy Council of Grand Island, said Belil is also working hard to fulfill his American dream, which is a slightly different thing.

Belil is a native of Sudan, but unlike many Sudanese who now live in Grand Island, he did not come to the United States as a refugee, The Grand Island Independent (https://bit.ly/2khxSay ) reported. Belil said he was living in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan, which is now separate from South Sudan, which gained its independence in July 2011. Since then, South Sudan has plunged into armed conflict between rival political factions, while Sudan has remained peaceful.

As a result, Belil and his family came to the United States through the regular immigration process, not as refugees fleeing their country for fear of being persecuted or killed. When asked why he wanted to come to America, Belil immediately mentioned the opportunity to get a better education. The second thing he mentioned was the chance to enjoy a higher standard of living.

Finally, he mentioned the opportunity to send money back to Sudan to help family members who still live there. Having relatives who live halfway around the world in Sudan is definitely the hardest thing about Belil’s decision to come to the United States. “I miss my family,” he said.

When they flew from Sudan to the United States in 2015, Belil said his wife, Arsala, and their young daughter, first arrived in New York City, where they stayed for just three days before heading out to Grand Island. He said he believes immigration officials sent him to Grand Island because they know the city has a large Sudanese population, which would help make the transition to the U.S. much easier. Immigration officials also know that the presence of JBS means that Belil likely would be able to find work soon after his arrival.

Belil said that after his short stay in New York City, he and his family, as well as eight other Sudanese immigrants, got into a rented van together and drove all the way out to Grand Island. “We followed the (road) map,” he said. After arriving in town, Belil found a place to live and quickly got a job working at JBS, where he did packaging.

Belil said that when he and the others made their journey from New York City, all he knew about Grand Island that it was in this place called Nebraska. He said he found the city a little strange and different from the life he had known in Khartoum. One big thing in Grand Island’s favor, Belil said, is that it did not take him long to learn the city’s streets, so he could drive around town to get to the places he needed to go.

A little over three months ago, Belil got a job as a swing shift custodian at Grand Island Senior High. He pointed out that he’s just passed his three-month probationary period, an achievement marked by the fact he now has his own work shirt with his first name stitched above the pocket.

“I like working here very much,” said Belil, who noted he enjoys the company of his co-workers. He also likes working around high school students.

Belil stays busy even outside of his job. He began learning English by going to ESL - English as a second language - classes offered by Central Community College at College Park. But Belil found it difficult to learn the new language as quickly as he wanted when he was part of a large class. As a result, he made a connection with the Literacy Council of Grand Island, where Tracy Noble already had been tutoring his wife, Arsala, in English. Noble agreed to also tutor Belil as he learned to speak, read and write English.

Belil still goes to College Park four mornings a week to learn English, getting lessons from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on two days and getting slightly longer lessons, from 9:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m., on the other two days. Belil and Arsala then go to the library on weekends to receive tutoring from Noble. He is also taking a computer class online from Central Community College.

Belil said his online course materials makes it extremely important for him to learn English, so he can read and understand the material when he is on his own and does not have the help of someone like Noble.

As for Noble, she said that Belil “is extraordinary as an individual who understands that English is what he needs to succeed in this county. This is a man who wants to learn 24/7 . He does workbooks independently, he’s online. He goes above and beyond.”

Noble sees Belil who serves as a good example for young student. “I wish we could teach young people today, ‘Look at what you can all learn.’” Noble said she has some high school students who have helped tutor Belil and she pointed out that “they’re very impressed. I think they’re very interested in people who really work at it this hard.”

Noble marvels at Belil’s story of coming to Grand Island in a rented van, along with Arsala, their young daughter, and eight other Sudanese immigrants with only road maps as guidance. She noted Belil’s daughter, who is now approaching 3 years old, was just a small baby when the family arrived in Grand Island. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh my, I could never have done that.’ It’s just pretty amazing.

“I guess what amazes me the most is that he’s just not afraid to talk to anybody,” Noble said. She noted that many new immigrants might stay at JBS to work because that is their first job where they feel comfortable, regardless of whether they speak English very well or have difficulty with the language.

Noble said Belil was looking for more than a new job when he applied to become a custodian at Grand Island Senior High. “He said, ‘I can’t learn English there (at JBS). It’s too loud.’ He would always tell me, ‘I have to find a job where I can learn English.’ That’s why he went to Senior High. He did that pretty much on his own. He told me, ‘I found this job in the paper.’ I didn’t know how it was going to work out for him. He was able to get through the interview. His English is soaring right now.”

Noble said one example of Belil’s drive to learn came this past Wednesday, when he had a paper due for a CCC class. She noted that writing is the most difficult form of English for most students. When Belil called and said he needed help with his paper, Noble agreed to meet him for a special session at the library to give him some feedback on what he had written.

Noble said that CCC’s ESL classes help students, but the Literacy Council of Grand Island has its own special niche for teaching immigrants how to speak English. “The Literacy Council is such a fine organization for these people because even if they continue in that group setting, that one-on-one is so crucial for them to gain confidence and for them to feel like they can succeed.

“He feels like he’s part of our family and we’re part of his family because he feels like he has somebody in Grand Island if he needs something,” Noble concluded.

Belil said he hopes that in the future that he, his wife and their daughter will all become U.S. citizens. That will allow them to join ranks with one family member who already is an American citizen. “My wife gave birth last December,” said Belil, proudly noting that he and his wife are now the parents to two daughters.

And even though he has been in Grand Island for such a short time, Belil no longer finds it so different. “I like it as well as my country,” he said.


Information from: The Grand Island Independent, https://www.theindependent.com

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