By Liz Perry, Alumni Guest Blogger
Galat Toang has seen a lot of unexpected turns in his young life. A recent Bellevue University alumnus, he now serves a pivotal role in which he mentors refugee middle and high school students and works with the Omaha Police Department Gang Unit to reach at-risk youth. Toang had no idea this is where he’d end up. “This found me,” he said.
As a child, Toang moved with his family to Des Moines, Iowa, as a refugee from South Sudan. Thanks to positive mentors and a love of basketball, he was able to avoid the dangers that sometimes come for South Sudanese refugees in America, including joining gangs. He said this happens, in part, because the children are struggling to figure out local culture while their parents work crazy hours to build a good life in the U.S.
“I could’ve gone the wrong way without mentors,” he said.
Building on this, he earned a scholarship at Grace University in Omaha. He moved to Nebraska and began playing basketball and studying at the school.
A Fork in the Road
When Grace University closed in 2018, Toang had to come up with a new plan. “Bellevue University came through,” he said.
Toang was able to complete his Bachelor of Science in Communication, without prolonging his educational career. He did this by completing his studies online. At first, he wasn’t sure if online education was for him, but it turned out to be a good experience. In particular, he enjoyed the flexibility it provided for completing coursework on his own schedule. Toang graduated in June, 2019.
After graduation, Toang was thinking about joining the military, but again life had another plan for him. An acquaintance thought he’d be perfect for his current role, in which he mentors kids from the Omaha South Sudanese community in their schools, and reports to the Omaha Police Department on his progress and the concerns of the local South Sudanese community. He accepted and hasn’t looked back.
Mentoring the Next Generation
Toang now spends his days helping children the way mentors helped him. “Some of these kids don’t have the opportunity to see that they could do things differently,” he said. “I’ve found a way to give back to the community.”
He works with the kids one-on-one and in small groups at schools, community organizations and detention centers, helping them work through any issues they may be facing. Though this isn’t the path he expected, his communication degree has helped him in the role.
“I’m able to communicate well, so I can help bridge the gap between a child, the parents and the school. I can help clear up any miscommunication,” he said. “The best part is seeing kids eager and wanting to learn. That leaves you knowing you’ve helped.”