For privacy, the program participant’s name has been abbreviated.
When A left Rwanda five years ago, she left behind not only her home but also her father. She, her mother, brother and sister had completed the long process of applying for refugee resettlement, but her father had not. She was being offered a chance at a new beginning, and her father would not be coming with her.
When she arrived in the U.S., she was plagued with doubts. The language was difficult, school was different and people were unwelcoming. Yet despite the adversity that she faced, A remembered why her family had decided to leave her home and father.
“When I first left Africa, my dad told me that the main reason we came here was to have education,” said A, now 19. “Because of that, I will work so hard so that I can get a scholarship to go even higher, not just to high school, because in my family, I’m going to be the first one to go to university.”
So at the age of fourteen, A arrived in her new home, determined to make the most of it. Her family had been vastly shaken; her sister was pregnant with twins, and her husband had also been left behind.
School was a refuge, but it was also filled with bullies.
“Some of the [students] were really smart, and they motivated me to keep going—even the bullies at my school because I didn’t want to become what they were calling me,” A explained. “Some of them would say ‘Go back to Africa. You’re not going to achieve anything here.’”
Rather than being deterred, however, A used the words of her father and those of her adversaries as motivation: “I was like ‘I’m not going to become what they are calling me. I’m going to keep going.’”
Over the next four years, A pushed herself to learn English, to study hard and to take advantage of the opportunities presented to her. Even though school was very different—she no longer had to walk there every day, and she no longer risked receiving a “whooping” for being late—it was her chance to start over.
“It’s just that we didn’t have a lot of opportunities [in Africa], but here students have a lot of opportunities,” said the recent Sheffield High graduate. “It’s just that some of them don’t care. Some of them don’t want to use them. That’s what makes it different.”
Yet with the help of World Relief Memphis and her friends and family, A seized the opportunities in front of her. She studied hard, making good grades despite the temptation to stray like some of her fellow students.
“I didn’t want to fit in, I didn’t want to do what they were doing because it would have affected my grades,” said A, the youngest of three. “So, I was just me.”
As graduation approached, she had the grades to receive a scholarship to go to university, but she didn’t know how to do so. When she learned about WRM’s youth mentoring program, she decided to participate.
“I didn’t have someone to talk about my financial aid, to choose the right school, and the right classes,” she said.
With the help of her mentor Mary, A began to see that her fears of failure shouldn’t stop her, that college was in fact a possibility.
A wish fulfilled
Thanks to her support system, A will now be attending Oakwood University in the fall as an applied mathematics and engineering major. When she told her father, who is still in Rwanda, he was very happy. As for herself, she’s proud to have graduated with a good GPA that allowed her to attend university.
Her World Relief mentor will still be in Memphis, but she plans to keep in touch and return home for the holidays. Her next goal is to prepare for college and eventually her career as an engineer, but before that, she has another one to accomplish.
“I’ve decided to follow Jesus so I’m going to prepare myself for eternal life,” A said, who grew up in the church and is an active member of the choir. “Also, keep choosing friends that can help me with that. That’s my goal.”
Knowing that, she hopes to one day be a mentor herself: “When you decide to walk with Jesus, that is something you have to do . . . I want to help people to build their relationship with God.”
Already, she has begun to think of how her own experiences could allow her to help others one day. To other students coming from Africa and situations similar to hers, her advice would be to persevere.
“I would say to the students that are coming from Africa, even the students [already] here—just keep going. You don’t have to figure everything out right away,” A encouraged. “Just be yourself and do the things that you left home to do. It’ll be hard here, but ask for help when it’s needed.”
A, we are so proud of you and your accomplishments, and we wish you the best of luck as you begin your college career! Thank you for sharing your story with us.
If you want to play a role in the lives of our youth like Mary did for A, come join us as a youth mentor.