Nyamal Dei, Founder of Kondial Kel International
There are a lot of similarities between Nyamal Dei’s adopted home of Fargo and the area of South Sudan where she grew up. Dei comes from a family of farmers, growing corn, sorghum, beans, and other crops as well as raising many head of cattle. Like Fargo, the area was prone to flooding—great for agriculture but a seasonal struggle for communities. Her father served in the military, leaving her mother to step up and manage the farm while he was away, a responsibility many agriculture women in the area understand.
“I guess that’s why Fargo has always felt like home,” Dei said. “I see the same strength and resilience in this community. And the same love.”
A refugee, an immigrant, a person of color, a single mother—Dei has overcome numerous challenges to prove that, with the right support, passion, and grit, you can accomplish just about anything. Today, through her volunteer and civic involvement, she seeks to provide that support, enabling local women and youth to reach their full potential.
Dei is the founder of Kondial Kel International, organizer of the area’s annual International Women’s Day Celebration, and a newly-elected Fargo School Board member.
The Past Can Break You, or It Can Make You Powerful
For the first few years of her life, South Sudan provided Dei a happy childhood surrounded by family, friends, and a vibrant community. But that all changed when civil war broke out. Her family was separated. She was forced to flee her home. She was smuggled across borders. She was chased and shot at, hungry, and frightened. She lost two brothers. She never hugged her mother again.
“I was young, maybe six or seven when we fled South Sudan,” Dei recalled. “But being young doesn’t protect you from trauma. Children feel it as deeply as adults. It just manifests differently. This is something we see at our local schools. New American children come to Fargo bearing the invisible scars of trauma and it is the job of our health professionals, educators, leaders, and community members to provide a safe harbor where they can heal.”
Dei eventually made it to America. She spoke no English but was determined to build a life for herself here.
The Value of a Village
“I am very blessed,” Dei said. “At every turning point in my life, God has seen fit to surround me with the people who could help me.”
In the refugee camp, it was the women who helped update travel documents so she could travel with her aunt to San Diego. It was her first ESL teacher, Mr. Pencil, who would pull out his guitar to make learning English easier. It was the coaches and teammates who would tutor her on the way to track meets so she could remain eligible. It was the women in her pre-med program in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, who helped her continue her studies after an unexpected pregnancy; babysitting, furnishing her apartment with everything for the baby, and providing the love and support every young mother needs.
With help from these people, and so many more, Dei graduated with an associate degree from Minnesota State Community and Technical College. She went on to receive her Bachelor of Applied Science in health education and recently finished up her Master of Public Health degree at Benedictine University.
“I was fortunate to have people who encouraged me to complete high school, get my associate’s, continue going and get my bachelor’s, and now I’m the first woman in my family with a master’s degree,” Dei said. “Culturally, in my hometown, there is a push for women to marry young. Most adult women can’t read or write. I can’t give them everything the Lord has blessed me with, but I do what I can. Literacy and opportunity for women are the driving force behind Kondial Kel. Imagine not being able to read your child’s medicine label. Imagine not being given the tools or education to reach your full potential. I learned selflessness from my mother and the other strong women in my family. Whatever I can do to help others, I will.”
And she has. Dei’s international efforts have helped her shape policy and provide support in regions where it is needed most. She spoke at the U.S. Peace Institute in Washington D.C., served as the humanitarian deputy of the Alliance for South Sudanese in Diaspora (ASSD), and served as a board member of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition. Dei is also a national member of the United Nations Association. She was appointed by Every Girl Wins Institute to be the representative of South Sudan for 2021 and an international representative in 2022. She also won the Global Honoree Ambassador Award in 2020 and the World Civility Ambassador Award in 2021.
When We All Succeed, It Makes the Community Stronger
In many ways, it’s this global perspective that has spurred Dei’s local and regional efforts. “Wherever I was—California, Georgia, North Dakota—I have always done my best to make a home within the community,” Dei said. “I think it’s important to connect with those around you. Fargo-Moorhead is an excitingly diverse community. I want to learn all I can about my neighbors. I want them to know me. Understanding each other, celebrating our diversity, and supporting every member of our community is how Fargo becomes ‘far more’ in my opinion. When everyone succeeds, the community is stronger.”
The 2023 International Women’s Day Celebration illustrated the power and potential of Dei’s vision for local women. More than 200 people from all over the region attended the event, making it one of the most successful celebrations so far.
“I am speechless,” Dei said. “We have been doing this for four years, but there was something different about this year. The power brought together in that room was truly amazing. I want to thank everyone who helped make the event what it was!”
Want to Get Involved?
Interested in being a part of the 2024 International Women’s Day Celebration? The organization is looking for committee members and volunteers to help continue the event’s growth and opportunities. Additionally, Kondial Kel International has two open board positions and is looking for an administrative person to help make positive changes in women’s lives. There are also plenty of volunteer opportunities with New American and youth programs for people who love to be out in the community making a difference.
“There’s always room for passionate people interested in working with FargoMoorhead’s diverse population to make impactful changes in our community,” Dei said. “Reach out to me and we will find the right opportunity. Together, we can help everyone in Fargo reach their full potential!”
Kondial Kel International