Form submitted: 1/29/2019
Country: United States
Education: Some college
What is your job right now?
Youth Representative on the board of Director at the Refugee Dream Center
What does youth wellbeing mean to you?
I am a refugee originally from Rwanda, and I was born in the refugee Camp called camp kintele in the Republic of Congo. The government treated us unfairly because of our status as refugee; we experienced police brutality in the refugee camps. I remember when I was very young, my father was separated from us, and we never saw him again. Due to this, and the hunger in the refugee camp my mother decided to move us to Brazzaville, Congo, the capital city with the help of humanitarian assistance through UNICEF, CEMIR and HCR. She worked hard, day and night, to help us survive. A few years later, the humanitarian assistance program helped her to rent a small store in Talaghaï Quarter in northern Brazzaville. She sold bread, milk, and soft drinks. Later she managed to get a freezer. However, shortly after my mother’s right hand got paralyzed. People around said the cold temperatures of her fridge had frozen her right arm. She used it to pick up cold beers and cold soft drinks for customers without protection. At the same time, in 2008 my younger sister caught asthma, which was probably caused from the new environment. And me, I was suffering from poor vision with unbearable headaches and I needed to have a surgery, but we did not have money.
When I turned 9 years old, I stopped going to school because we needed money, not only for daily meals but also for medicine. My mother’s job was the only source of our income, so I made a decision to work in our store by helping and replacing my mother. I started to work 17 hours a day so that I that could pay my school tuition and my mother’s and my sister’s medicines. I started walking in the streets so that I could sell cold water and in the afternoon sold bread. Through all the struggle, I never stopped believing in education, I wanted to study hard because I believed that I could make a difference, not just to my family, but also to my homeland. It was a relief in 2014, after 7 years of waiting, we luckily were given refugee status to come to the United States as refugees. It was a dream come true. To me, well-being is having a place to call home; and the U.S is the place that I call home; to me well-being is having an opportunity to get an free education and make the world a better place; and well-being is being free and happy.
What does opportunity mean to you?
Opportunity for me means hope. Opportunity for me also means freedom and choice. That no matter where I am from, I believe that anything is possible. I am very thankful to the American people for giving me this, for the kindness and the opportunity they have given us to go to school. I remember back in Brazzaville, me and my little sister had to walk every day to school barefoot two to three hours at very young age. It was difficult, but living here in the United States is dream come true. When we came to the United States as refugees, immediately, we were faced with a number of challenges such as the difficulty of finding a home, adjusting to American culture, learning English as a seventh language, and succeeding in school despite limited resources for English language learners. After a year, I improved my English. I went to Dorcas International Institute as a volunteer to help refugees. I also volunteered at the Refugee Dream Center as an interpreter for the refugees because they could not speak English. I showed them how to take the bus, for example, I taught them how to know which bus would take them to the market. In addition, one of my family friends had children who were about to start school, but they did not know how to get there. Figuring I could help, I took the kids to the school and showed them around for the first day. They were ecstatic. I encouraged the family also to send their children to the refugee camp in the summer so they could learn English. I went there as a volunteer to help refugees.
On World Refugee Day, the Dorcas International Institute wanted me to perform my poetry. I wrote a poem about making this world a better place. I wanted to show people that no matter what struggles people face, they will be able to make it through. I wanted people to believe that they can learn English and speak it. I wanted to help and contribute to this community because I know how difficult it is to enter a new country. I want to help people through this transition in any way that I can.
When the new president of the United States signed an executive order about the ban from refugees, of course we had to stand and protest it. As a refugee who did not know anybody, I had to start my life as a student from scratch and my community helped so much, and all I wanted to do was to give back. Most importantly, I want to show people that refugees are not terrorist and we want to make our community a better place. My mentor, Omar Bah, motivated me to continue with my advocacy work in the community. In my senior year of high school, I testified at the Rhode Island State House in front of the House Finance Committee in support of the RI Promise scholarship.
I was awarded when the state awarded one of five $20,000 Roger Williams scholarships from the Rhode Island Foundation. Due to this personal experience, I decided to help fellow young refugees who recently arrived in America in their effort to integrate. I wanted to inspire other refugees through my beautiful poetry, motivational speaking, and youth mentoring, and talking about peace and unity within my community. I also have mentored dozens of refugee youths, helping them get into college, apply for scholarships, avoid truancy, and gang related activities. This summer, I worked as a creative director at the Refugee Youth Summit. During this period, I helped organize young refugees and educated them about gun violence, and empowered them to have a voice through personal expression with the help of poetry, music and art.
I also coordinated the Refugee Youth Dream, a youth mentoring program at the Refugee Dream Center, a non-profit that provides resources and advocates for the refugees in Rhode Island. From this work, I received the 2018 Exemplary Youth Service Award from the Center. At this program, I run a group of both American and Refugee youth as a way of bridging the disconnection between the two communities. The idea is to connect the communities, encourage youths to be friendly with each other and learn about each other’s cultures, as well as for the proper integration of refugees into American society.
This year, I currently serve on the Board of Directors at the Refugee Dream Center and I also have received recognition citations from Governor Gina Raimondo and many more elected officials across the state. As a student of Rhode Island College, I received Rhode Island College Emerging Leadership Recognition, Congressional Recognition from the Honorable David S. Cicilline for my community services and Exemplary Youth Services Recognition from Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee, and recognition from Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse.
How is youth wellbeing related to opportunity?
The more opportunity available to a person, the greater their well-being. As a refugee youth, well-being is being happy and being comfortable. Opportunity is also well-being because the more opportunity you have the happier you can be. When my family and I came to the United States, and I had the opportunity to go to school, I hoped, as I continue to hope, to bring my knowledge and skills back to my home city of Brazzaville. Not only do I want to bring this knowledge back to improve the city within, I also want to inspire children to attend school by creating interest in my field of study. Education is what my mom wanted me and my sister to have, it’s our happiness that we get to have this opportunity to achieve greater things in the United States.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank for this opportunity!