From Sudan to Utah!

For: Edana Gama
Organizer: Phoenix Ostermann
of $14,000 goal.
Raised by 122 donors
96% Complete
This fundraiser is closed. Thank you for your support!

The Story

In 2008, Edana and her then 8 year old daughter Catherine came to Salt Lake City, Utah to get life changing surgery to repair Catherine's severe cleft palatte, leaving the rest of the family behind. Life in war-torn Karthoum, Sudan was hard enough without having a child who could not eat solid foods and did not speak until she was 5 because of her congenital deformity.

The Second Sudanese Civil War beginning in 1983 defined every struggle about Edana's adult life.  Held captive for 5 years after seeing her parents murdered, Edana was raped as a teenager by a soldier and gave birth to a son.  Soon after, she met her husband John who promised a better life.  They went on to grow their family and do the best they could for them.  When the opportunity to join relatives in Utah to get a much needed operation for Catherine came about, Edana was the best candidate to bring her here.

Once here, Catherine received her operations through the generosity of Operation Smile and life was looking up. However, the 2 of them faced many struggles in the beginning, including homelessness. Nevertheless, life was better in Utah than in Sudan where her 2 oldest daughter's fate sadly mirrored her own. The teens were both raped by soldiers within 6 months of each other and both gave birth to daughters 3 years ago. With the help of a lawyer, Edana sought Political Asylum for herself and Catherine and recieved that status in 2010. Edana's central focus became having her family reunited in Salt Lake City.

Now enter the amazing Utah Health and Human Rights and the International Rescue Commity (IRC). Without these 2 extraordinary organizations, Edana would not be the english-speaking, hard-working, person she has become today. And without the IRC, I would not be telling you this story of her life.  After a training session, I became a 'Family Mentor' volunteer for the IRC in the Summer of 2011. it would take 3 months for me to be matched up with Edana and Catherine and I can honestly say that my and my family's life is forever changed since befriending this family.

Catherine, now 13, is a regular fixture in our home, coming over often to play with my 3 chidren. She readily passes for an american teenager singing along to all her favorite pop songs on the radio declaring "my bad" when she mixes up the lyrics.  She has had six surgeries to date that have transformed her face and quality of life. (AUGUST 5th UPDATE: Catherine had her 7th surgery, this time reconstructing her upper lip.)

After 5 years apart, this family will now be reunited. The hard work of the IRC office in Salt Lake City has paid off - the U.S. handed down the final approval just a week ago to come as "Derivative Assylees". They just need a way to get here.
  • AUG. 9TH UPDATE: Phase One of this fundraiser has now allowed 4 of the 8 family members to fly to Salt Lake City.  The two oldest daughters and the two grandchildren HAVE ALREADY ARRIVED and the tickets were paid for with the first $7,300 raised. There was an urgency for the grandchildren to arrive before August 15, when their Humanitarian Parole was to expire.
  • AUG. 14th UPDATE:  Phase Two is underway! With the help of and $2,500 in gifts from supporters, the 4 remaining plane tickets have been purchased for $4,850.  The reunion will happen Sept 6th.
  • SEPT. 9th UPDATE:  The 10 have been reunited!  Edana's husband and 3 remaining displaced children arrived in SLC on Sept. 6th.  Any gift made from today forward will go into the hands of this family to help with rent for a bigger place, winter clothes, groceries etc.)

Now it is your turn to forever alter the path of this family.  Your gift will secure the one-way plane tickets for Edana's husband John, her daughters Lina, Nelly, Rose and Carlene, her son Samuel, and her granddaughters Emanuela and Helda. A Christmas fundraiser was held for them in December. That money allowed them safe passage in May out of South Sudan to and lodging in Kampala, Uganda in May, where they await today. (THEY ARE NOW IN SALT LAKE CITY!!  PLEASE HELP US REACH OUR ORIGINAL GOAL OF $14,000!)

If this story touches you, considering sharing it with friends and family. Thank you.

(The deadline of this fundraiser has been extended to September 10th so that all of the supporters can stay be updated with the news and photos of the family's Sept. 6th arrival)

Fundraiser Updates

Posted on September 10, 2013

Posted on September 10, 2013


The end date for this fundraiser was arbitrary from the start and it was a date that kep getting pushed back to accomodate milestones.  Today will be the last day that I will officially be raising money at YouCaring.  

The coverage done by Deseret News did generate one generous gift from a stranger. The article also did as it was meant to - touch many people as understood by this data found on the online version: 







My hope was that Edana's story would seep into the hearts of many and it would have an infinite ripple effect. I feel like that is happening.

The time and energy that I have put into this fundraising campaign was a labor of love.  I will however miss the feeling that I am not doing this alone.  I have felt your love and support through the ether as you read these updates and as I watched the supporter list grow every day. There is still much to be done for this family and the best gift I can give them is empowerment. The less I do for them now the better, which feels counter intuitive to my heart, but I know this to be true.  

My friendship with Edana has taught me many lessons and many things about the complexities of life. Throughout this process, one of my daughters has struggled with feelings of injustice: How is it that we want for nothing and this family HAS nothing, is the basic gist of her inner dialogue. Every day I try to point out the things they do have ('eachother' is a big one) as to help her make sense of something that really doesn't make sense. I am pretty sure that 99% of the way our lives turn out has to do with where we are born.  And what I tell my daughter is that we don't have to feel guilty about the fact that have it better than so many people.  The real key is to take our abundance and spread it around.  

Please don't hesitate to contact me in the future if you want an update about the family: [email protected]

Thank you everyone from me and from Edana and her family.  I wrote down all of your names on poster board so they could see how many people made their reunion happen and they display it proudly on the wall of their apartment now for all of their visitors to see. You did good, everyone!

Most sincerely,
Phoenix Ostermann

Posted on September 9, 2013

Posted on September 9, 2013


Thank you to Marjorie Cortez of Deseret News for this wonderful full-circle article!

Be sure to scroll through the 17 wonderful photos taken by Kristin Murphy.

Enjoy and pass it on!

Posted on September 9, 2013

Posted on September 9, 2013

I wanted to let you all know about a fundraising event happening this evening at City Creek Center that will benefit Bridges to America - the organization that was so instrumental in bringing our second group of 4 here.

Here is all of the necessary info: 

Join Bridges to America at a charity event with one of the coolest and most positive retailers out there, Alex and Ani

Stop by and browse or buy during the event and help us raise much needed funds to reunite a family of four from Kenya in late September. You will be amazed by this family's story. My entire family will be there and members of the family just reunited Friday night from Sudan will also be there. Love to see you there!

If you CANNOT MAKE IT you have two options:

1. Find something at their online store message me your order. I, or my daughters, will find the item(s) and buy for you and you can pay me back;
2. Go to support us with whatever size donation you can make.

A generous 15% of all sales made during the event go directly to Bridges To America.

Posted on September 8, 2013

Posted on September 8, 2013

What a wonderful, cooling, cleansing rain we're having in Salt Lake City this morning. I must admit that my emotional exhaustiion got the better of me yesterday and I spend most of the day in bed and today's weather gives me permission to continue yesterday's pace.

I haven't talked to Edana much since Friday night except during her break from work yesteday.  We dropped everyone off at Edana's apartment around 10pm (though we DID get to have Helda and Emmuela at our house!). I am sure they were up late because of all the friends and family that were already at the apartment when we got there.  Despite this excitement, Edana dutifully rose at 4:30am the next morning to ready herself for work. She said that everyone got up with her to give her breakfast and to send her off!  That's love.

I hope to see everyone today and then I will have more to report.  All I know is that the beautiful 3 kids who arrived, Rose, Carlina, and Samuel, were FULL of smiles Friday night.  

I think it is a good time to start collecting your offers of donated items.  I will make a short list here of what I think the family will need and you can send me an email with your offers at [email protected].  (Hang on to this address if you ever want to have another update from me after this webpage goes down later this week.)

- Winter items for one adult man, 2 adult women, 2 teenage girls (15 and 17), a 9 year old boy, a 4 year old girl and a 3 year old girl.
- 3 dressers
- A book shelf for organizing misc. items
- A double or queen bed and matress
- A couch
- Kitchen table and chairs
- Living room chairs
- Cleaning supplies
- Toothpaste, soap, towels
- Smith's gift cards for groceries

Also, a big thank you comes your way from John, Edana's husband.  He is just so grateful and overwhelmed at everyone's generosity that got him and his family to Utah. This week I plan on writing down everyone's name who has been associated with this campaign in a card and give it to the family so they can begin to fathom the efforts and love that went into getting them here. 

Thanks everyone!

Posted on September 7, 2013

Posted on September 7, 2013

They made it! And what a beautiful homecoming it was. I will update you and post photos tomorrow after a good night's sleep. 
Thanks everybody,

Posted on September 6, 2013

Posted on September 6, 2013


Edana's husband and 3 kids made their plane out of Brussels and are heading toward Philadelphia where they will have 4 hours and 45 minutes to get through Customs and find the domestic terminal - I am confident they will make it, but I will continue to keep you posted.


Posted on September 5, 2013

Posted on September 5, 2013


Well fellow humanitarians - WE'VE DONE IT!  Edana's husband, 2 daughters, and son are on the plane now - bound from Belgium, thier first stop. I will be tracking them the best I can to make sure they make each flight.  If you plan on coming to the airport tomorrow night you can track their last flight tomorrow evening:  US Airways #555.  They are due to land Friday night at 9:14pm.

Since I last wrote, I have had someone come forward pledging the first 3 months rent for a second apartment. YUP - You read that correctly - 3 MONTHS RENT.  That was the motivation Edana needed about letting go of her fear of being responsible for 2 apartments.  And it was the motivation that I needed to ask for what we really needed - enough money to pay for a 6 month lease up front so there would be NO fear and it would buy us time to look for a permanant solution to this housing dilemma.  So I did ask, and it worked. We now have enough money pledged today to pay up- front the full 6 months rent.  Now we wait.  The rental company should get back to me by Monday to let me know if the application was accepted.

This weekend Edana may try to cram everyone in her place because they will all want to be together.  With any luck, she will let my family take the 2 grandchildren, Helda and Emmanuela, for the weekend ;)  That will give them all a little more space and a some peace from all of their adorable energy.

As I type, Edana is busily preparing an African feast that will feed her family and visitors for the next week.  She was contemplative today, rather subdued if you ask me.  How would it feel for me if I knew that the impossible dream of being reunited after all this time with my husband and children was about to come true?  Surreal, I guess.  Have Edana in your thoughts, as I know that all of us are in hers.  She said over and over today how she feels like God is working through all of us who have helped her and her family so much over the past few months, and she thanks you.  Whomever or whatever is working though you, I thank you too.  


Posted on September 3, 2013

Posted on September 3, 2013


Incredibly, since August 28, $425 in NEW donations have come in - moving us that much closer to the overall goal!  Thank you new gift-givers!! This is a lot of money that will be so helpful to this family in the coming months.

It is good for me to count this blessing before I update you on all the rest that has happened. 

The house that Edana and I were so counting on working out for her and her family fell through today after hours of phone calls, faxes, emails, house tours, and more phone calls.  And I really should have known that it was not going to work.  It came down to one simple conversation the rental company had with the home owner.  No, he would not accomodate a family that size, no matter the curcumstances. Which led me to call her existing landlord to see if the family could rent a second apartment in the complex but not sign a year long lease.  Of course they can - they can sign a 6 month lease, but then of course, the rent on an identacle apartment would be higher. (*Sigh*)

As for Lina and Nelly, they have been getting help from the Asain Association Refugee Immigrant center for obtaining their identification cards and getting social security numbers.  It was discovered that Nelly's name was incorectly listed on her I-94 immigration form, apparently filled out at customs at the airport.  A civilized person would think this would be an easy fix.  Maybe even involving a pink erasure.  But no.  This is a problem that could take up to 6 months of corrective paper work to remedy, according to the case worker (An incredibly helpful and compassionate  human being who has NEVER come across this error in all the years he has been doing this).

You may ask, "what's the big deal?" Well, with no ID card or social security number... NO JOB. 

Sorry, I feel a big one coming on...*SIGH*.

SO...the takeaway from these revelations is two-fold: It's really hard to come here seeking a better life, and, I can only do what I can do about any of this. I need to let go and trust that everything will work out the way it is supposed to work out. In the meantime, I need to focus on my children and the way they are processing all of this. It's the little things for them that are important right now, like making welcome signs for John, Carlena, Rose, and Samuel, who are arriving in 3 short days. Hope to see some of you there.


Posted on August 30, 2013

Posted on August 30, 2013

Today is a good day.

I want you all to know the gift that you have given to Edana's family goes FAR beyond resettlement. There is one thing I have not talked about that I now want to share with you all. Edana's biggest indignity is that she was never educated. She cannot read or write her own language. She is like so many girls born into this world (66 million actually) who are not given the opportunity at an education. The cycle is perpetuated often times by poverty. School is not free in over 50 countries, including Sudan. Edana's 2 oldest girls were not allowed an education because they needed to work to help the family.

The main reason Edana insists on staying in her neighborhood is so that Catherine can continue on to the beautiful middle school we went to for registration. Just walking in the doors, Edana saw opportunity. She sees opportunity for her other girls now too. There is much talk about getting her oldest daughters enrolled in English classes as soon as possible and I have heard Edana proudly announce several times to people that her grandchild Helda will attend kindergarten next year.

This is because of you. Because of your gift, this terrible cycle has been broken for the girls of this family.

Thank you for the new contributions today. Thank you for your encouraging FB messages.
Just thank you.

Posted on August 29, 2013

Posted on August 29, 2013

I wrote yesterday's update relatively late last night when I was WAY too tired and today I see lots of typos (cringe). One mistake I wrote that I want to set straight however,  was that I said that the original goal was based on the average cost of 10 plane tickets - I meant to say 8.  Four have come already and 4 more are on their way.  I didn't want to confuse anyone.

I called the Management company again who manages the house Edana is interested in AGAIN, (I've called a minimum of 8 times already to make sure they all understand the situation) and layed my personal plea on VERY thick.  They absolutely will not rent this house to Edana with her income being what it is.  I have let them know we have a couple of months supplementary rent (above the $675 she's used to paying) raised and I even emailed a link to the KSL story to the woman handling the application and I have assured them over and over that her husband will begin working ASAP.  I am pulling out all of the stops.  All that remains is for them to verify her employment and for me to continue to convince her current apartment manager NOT to charge Edana for breaking her lease and to not disparrage her because of this when they fill out the Landlord Verification form.  Can you all understand why I have had a stomach ache for the last 5 days?  

Anyone want to take over the lease on a lovely 2 bedroom aparment at Park Place downtown?
Send me and Edana positive thoughts and vibes today everyone,

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