When Mary Makuta came to the U.S. in 2016 with her mother and four siblings, she hadn’t been to school in four years. Five years later, she’s preparing to graduate from Central High School, the first in her family to do so.
“My mom didn’t graduate high school. My dad didn’t graduate,” Mary said as a slow smile spread across her face. “I’ll be the first one in the family. I’m excited. I’m proud.”
And yet despite being the first one to graduate, Mary isn’t thinking about herself. Instead, she’s thinking of how she can give back to the community and be a role model to her brothers and sisters as she finishes out her final year.
“I want to be a role model for my siblings. I could see one of them getting there,” she said proudly. “They’re really smart, and I love them.”
With that in mind, Mary is doing everything she can to help them succeed. In the fall, she’ll be starting university as a business major, and, in her free time, she’ll be guiding her family through the American school system, just as World Relief Memphis did for her when she arrived.
“I’m trying to get them to be more active and join different clubs like Bridge. I heard that colleges like hearing that you join clubs or create them,” said Mary, 18. “My only reason [that I didn’t] was that my mom had to work after school, and I had to babysit. They won’t have to do that.”
Because Mary will be attending college close to home, she will continue to help her mother and siblings. With the freedom that comes with a college class schedule, Mary will babysit and work to ensure that her siblings can pursue all the opportunities available to them.
In fact, her first goal after high school is to get a job and help her mom buy a house. As a future realtor, Mary will be getting a first-hand look at the real estate market in doing so.
Before that, however, there is one thing that she must do first: help other refugees come to the United States alongside World Relief and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
“Real estate can wait,” said Mary, who is graduating one year early. “I want to work with them, volunteer—anything. It doesn’t matter. It’s a way of giving back.”
Before the pandemic struck, she had already decided how she would do so. She was going to volunteer in a refugee camp in Uganda, but the trip was cancelled as the situation around the world worsened.
With borders closed for the foreseeable future, Mary is looking into other ways to give back from her home in Memphis such as volunteering with World Relief.
“[Someone] volunteered when we got here, taking us about America—to buy groceries, to donut places. It was fun, and everything was new to us,” Mary explained. “That’s what I want to do—help new refugees coming to Memphis.”
Mary, we are so proud of all your hard work, and we hope to see working alongside us one day as we welcome our neighbors to Memphis!
If you want to get involved in the lives of our youth, fill out an application to become a Youth Mentor today.