Aise Nature Bahonda and Emily Yope are proud to be a part of the refugee community here in Memphis. I had the opportunity to sit down with them and discuss their story and their aspirations for the future; doing so in hopes to encourage other new commers to this city and to remind others of the importance of supporting this resilient group of people.
Both coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo, these teens described fond memories of their life in their hometowns as children such as playing soccer, hanging out with friends, and constructing slingshots. However, they do remember the trials as well. Aise recalled the struggle of travelling miles to get fresh water and the poor treatment he received in school. With conflicts rising in their country, their families were displaced and contacted by IOM (International Organization for Migration). Emily specifically noted that traveling to and from IOM’s location was extremely difficult as it was over three hours from their home. For her, the refugee process took over three years. Aise, who was four when the process started, recalls the loads of paperwork his family had to complete, and the numerous questions queried to them. For both, it was exhausting and intimidating. The trials only continued once their journey commenced.
When asked about the emotion of the moment, Emily stated, “I didn’t know anyone or how to live there (in America) so I kind of freaked out. When our friends left us (resettling in a different city), it was so painful.” Pushing through however, they were greeted in Memphis by World Relief who wasted no time in settling them in their new home. Although his dad was the only one who knew basic greetings in English, Aise stated he felt relieved when they arrived at their Memphis house. In fact, his favorite moment was “the huge table of food!” For Emily, she was relieved to see the diversity of the city of Memphis. She told me she worried they would be outsiders here, but upon arriving quickly met other people from her country which alleviated some of the initial culture shock. From there, World Relief began helping them with their application processes for their Social Security cards, getting them enrolled in school, and much more.
Learning English was the most difficult challenge to overcome as the students adjusted to school in America. “It was difficult when I was used to being at the top of my class back home, then coming here and not understanding anything my teachers said. I had no idea what to do,” remembers Emily. English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and after school tutoring at Refugee Empowerment Program helped her to regain confidence by about seven months in school. Simultaneously, Emily is keen to keep fluent in her home languages of Swahili and French, and volunteers to interpret for others at church and in her community. Aise chooses to stay fluent in Lingala as well, and practices regularly by visiting with cousins and family over various apps.
Now, both are thriving in school and are excited for the future. Emily is a senior at Central High-School and Aise is a sophomore on Central’s varsity soccer team. Emily’s dream is to be a cardiologist while Aise’s is to be a surgeon. When asked why, both stated they have a passion to help others. Emily was inspired by the death of a cousin who couldn’t get the cardiac surgery needed. Aise described his motivation: “Where I grew up I saw a lot of people in pain and it was hard to get medical treatments. I just want to give back the favor. I hate seeing death. I want the world to be full of light and peaceful.” With World Relief’s continued support coupled with their ravenous work ethic, their dreams will become a reality, which will be another small step in building a better future for the next generation.
Story: Nathan Spencer
Photos: Emily Frazier
June is #ImmigrantHeritageMonth and #RefugeeAwarenessMonth, and as we count down to World Refugee Day June 20th, we will be featuring stories of courage, resilience, and hope among our refugee and immigrant community. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at @wrmemphis.
To contribute to our work, visit worldrelief.org/memphis/get-involved/covid-19.
Nathan and Emily volunteer for World Relief as copywriter and photographer. To learn about volunteering with us, visit Volunteer Opportunities.