Clara Auling moved her son, Deng, and daughter, Akula, to Carroll five years ago from Salt Lake City, Utah. Clara Auling fled South Sudan in 1999 to come to America.
Clara Auling moved her son, Deng, and daughter, Akula, to Carroll five years ago from Salt Lake City, Utah. Clara Auling fled South Sudan in 1999 to come to America.

April 12, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series highlighting Sudanese refugees in Carroll. You can read part one here.

It was a year ago in May when a 19-year-old Carroll man — whose parents are Sudanese — was shot dead in the parking lot of a Des Moines church.

Ruot Gach had lived with his mother and six siblings — two of whom attend Carroll Community Schools. His family moved to the United States from South Sudan in the ’90s in search of a better life.

Gach and his family had been in Des Moines to attend a wedding for another Sudanese family from Carroll.

“Once Ruot got killed, they blamed the other family,” Carroll Police Chief Brad Burke recalled. “We had a couple assaults that took place because of it.”

No one has been arrested for his death.

At the time, some Carroll residents worried that more violence — maybe a murder — would happen here.

It didn’t.

A GROWING DIVERSITY

Burke started working for the Carroll Police Department in 2006. He has been the chief since July 2015. He was raised in Storm Lake — a community that he described as culturally diverse. Students of its public schools are more than 80 percent non-white.

“That’s how it was,” Burke said. “When I (first) came here, it was not as diverse. Now, you go to a baseball game and see white, Sudanese and Hispanic kids mingling and having fun. That’s a good thing.”

Burke estimated that the Sudanese community of Carroll includes about 100 people — about 1 percent of the city’s total population. He said the Sudanese population has seen a steady growth in the past 10 years, with a significant spike in the last two to five years.

The onset of Sudanese residents in Carroll has not affected the local crime rate, Burke said.

“(The Sudanese) are getting arrested as much as anyone else,” Burke said. “We’ve seen quite a few theft arrests, but it’s been the same couple of people. That’s common in this line of work. Ninety percent of the time, we’re dealing with the same 10 percent of the population.”

Burke said his department is making an effort to connect with Carroll’s Sudanese residents through visits to their neighborhoods.

“There’s some people who don’t want to talk with us,” Burke said. “That’s fine. We do our best to respect them and chat with them.”

Rob Cordes, outgoing superintendent of Carroll Community Schools, said the Sudanese presence is good for the population.

He added that Sudanese children have integrated well into Carroll schools.

“We have more children of color — of many nationalities — than we’ve had before,” Cordes said. “It’s good for our population. The world that our kids are going to live in when they leave Carroll is going to be more diverse than Carroll is.”

Cordes has been superintendent for 14 years. Before that, he worked as a principal at Carroll Middle School for four years.

Cordes said that Carroll is more accepting to diversity than it was 15 years ago, though he believes there is more work to be done. He added that communities in western Iowa will need to embrace diversity in order to “stay vibrant.”

“Communities that don’t do that are going to struggle,” he said. “A lot of the rural population is migrating to more urban or suburban areas. Diversity is going to play a huge part in whether rural communities will be able to grow or prosper.”

CRIME AND MISTRUST

Ruot Chuol came to Carroll in 2016 from Omaha. He first moved to the U.S. in 1999 with his family. After living in Omaha for a while, he moved to Carroll with his wife, Nyatup, to raise their two kids.

He now works at Pepsi Beverages Co. Nyatup works at the Swan Place assisted-living facility.

Chuol hopes to see his 6-year-old son, Khan, begin swimming at the Carroll Recreation Center and said both of his children have not had any issues making friends at Fairview Elementary School.

Chuol said he has few complaints about Carroll but previously worried that a now-former police officer — who stopped him four times in his car over the course of a few months — was racially profiling him.

“I feel like the whole Carroll community has been good for us except the police department,” Chuol said.

Chuol lives at the Fairview Village Apartments close to Fairview Elementary, one of the areas where Burke said the police department has been seeking to visit more with residents.

Chuol explained that it is not just the Sudanese residents who feel targeted at Fairview but African-Americans as a whole.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t figure out (the former officer’s) mind, so I don’t know. It’s because we’re black or whatever that is, I don’t know. It’s up to him. I don’t know what’s on his mind.”

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

Since coming to Carroll, Clara Auling has tried to assimilate herself and family into the town, despite a variety of challenges.

After years of trying to avoid persecution in Sudan, Auling traveled to Egypt, then Arizona and Utah before moving to Carroll five years ago.

Her daughter Akula — once the only black girl at Carroll High School, Auling said — is now studying architectural engineering at Iowa State University.

Her son, Deng Nyoak, 15, was always in trouble with the middle-school principal, Auling said.

“When my son was in middle school, he got in a lot of trouble with some of the teachers there,” she said. “The principal doesn’t like my son at all. I’ve been there a lot. I always go to the middle school for real simple stuff that a teacher can fix, but they don’t want to fix it, they just call me.”

Auling’s family lives at the Meadow Wood apartments behind Fareway. When she needs an appliance fixed, she contacts her landlord’s supervisor in Des Moines. She said she learned to stop reaching out to her landlord after failing to receive help numerous times.

Auling worked at Tyson Foods in Denison for two years. Now she is pursuing an associate’s degree in human services at Des Moines Area Community College in Carroll. At school, she loves most of the people she works with but has had some unpleasant experiences.

“I took composition, and the first time the teacher told me I’m not going to pass the class,” Auling said. “It really hurt me a lot. But I did pass the class with a B-minus, and I came and I told her, ‘What do you think now?’ You cannot judge a person because of their color or because I don’t know how to speak English well. It doesn’t mean I don’t know how to write, or I can’t understand what she is saying.”

Although there have been many hardships in Auling’s life, she holds out hope for the next chapter. She plans to complete her degree from DMACC and further her education at Iowa State University. She wants to use her education to help the Sudanese refugees and to provide a better life for her children, she said.

Over the years, Auling said, she has learned to let go of the pain and move forward.

Life teaches us a lot of things,” she said. “We have to learn to just take it sometimes. Even if we don’t like it, and I don’t think we’re ever going to like it, but there is no other way — we have to live.”