By PHYL NEWBECK
Chol Dhoor was only 10-years-old when he left his home in Sudan. He spent 12 years in a refugee camp in Kenya, reaching the United States at the age of 26 and becoming a citizen in 2015. One year later, he founded the Sudanese Foundation of Vermont to help fellow immigrants and refugees. The mission of the organization is to “invest and support new american families to raise kids to succeed academically and athletically in Vermont” and to promote social events to bring people together.
Dhoor, now 38, explained that the history of Sudanese immigration to Vermont started with the group known as the Lost Boys of Sudan.
“They came here by themselves,” Dhoor said “and now, 10 years later, they have families of their own. I thought we needed an organization to identify the specific problems we face as a new American community.”
The foundation started with a mentoring program. They matched college students to community children and brought those students to the children’s homes to read to them. Saint Michael’s College, the University of Vermont and Champlain College have all taken part in that program.
With the cost of living rising and many parents having to take second or even third jobs, Dhoor then began a program to help Sudanese children attend summer camp. Last year, with assistance from the Church of St. Paul in Burlington, the foundation was able to send 15 kids to a one-week camp. This year, 14 students will be able to attend summer camp at Rock Point at no cost to their parents, and a fundraiser scheduled to take place at the Church of St. Paul on April 27 will raise money for more students to attend Rock Point Camp. The Vermont Folklife Center also sponsored nine children for one of their week-long camps.
Dhoor is always on the lookout for partnerships, as well as a grant-writer to help the foundation apply for more funding.
For almost eight years, Dhoor has worked as a patient services representative for the Community Health Centers of Burlington, attending to the Sudanese Foundation of Vermont in his spare time. In addition, he serves on the board of directors of Spectrum Youth Services and on Burlington’s Community Development Block Grant Advisory Board.
“The work I do for Spectrum and the city has broadened my experience,” Dhoor said. “If the work you do is important, then it doesn’t feel like work.”
Dhoor has lived in Charlotte since 2011.
“I’m very lucky that my kids go to amazing schools with lots of resources,” he said. “Being in Charlotte is one of the best moves I ever made.”
In 2017, Dhoor returned to South Sudan for the first time.
“I spent six weeks there and it was very special for me,” he said. “The South Sudanese achieved what they had been fighting for, for so many years. They have their own government and are running their schools and hospitals. To see that for the first time was very special after having witnessed the cost of war.”
In January, Dhoor received the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Award from the Greater Burlington Multicultural Resource Center.
“It was really empowering,” he said. “It was special for me because it was in the name of a prominent and outstanding world leader who has been a voice for many and stood for issues that are still on the front line today. It gave me momentum to do more. I’m encouraged that what I’m trying to do with the help of many people is being noticed.”