At 10-years-old, Alliance already understands the responsibilities that only an adult should. As she gets ready for school, she glances at her three siblings, worrying about what she will prepare for them for lunch that day.
As she steps out of the door of their home in the Gihembe refugee camp in Rwanda, she sees the storm clouds rolling in over the horizon. She begins the long walk to school, and the rain starts to fall. The wind picks up.
By the time she arrives, she’s soaked to the bone. With each step she takes, water drips to the red dirt floor. The teacher starts the class, but Alliance isn’t listening. Instead, she hears the wind growing stronger, rattling the make-shift structure that is their school.
Even if the structure doesn’t blow away, she will still have to repeat the walk home, cook lunch for her younger siblings while her mom is looking for work to support them, and once again return to school in the midst of the downpour.
When she goes to sleep that night after completing her chores, she knows that she will have to repeat the process again the next day. Only this time, perhaps she won’t have to worry about her school being blown away in the midst of a storm.
Until one day, she didn’t. In 2015, Alliance and her siblings left the only home they had ever known and moved to the United States with their mother to begin rebuilding their lives. To the thirteen-year-old, it felt like a practical joke.
“I didn’t believe we were coming here,” said Alliance, now 19. “There [was] no [way] I [was] going to a new country because we never really travelled, even outside of the state, out of the camp, because we were not allowed to get involved with the other citizens because we were not citizens. We were just refugees, immigrants. The whole thought of us going, not outside of the country but outside of the continent, it just scared me, and I never dreamed of it.”
Arriving in Memphis one hot summer day, her family is greeted at the airport by the team at World Relief Memphis. Her mother looks to her to guide them because she’s learned the basics of English at school and was the top of her class, but it’s too fast.
Slowly, she begins to settle into life in the U.S. When August rolls around, she begins school with the other children her age. Only this time, she doesn’t have to worry about cooking lunch for her siblings or her school being blown away. Now, she’s safe.
“We were able to learn new things in the safest way possible, because [before], if the wind blew, it could easily bring the shelter down, and we would just be rained on, and we wouldn’t have school,” said Alliance, a senior at East High School. “Another thing that I liked about here is that the schools have food for kids to eat. Mostly—where I’m from, you had to stay in class—while in class you’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to eat when I get home.’”
As the oldest, she thought not of herself, but of her siblings. Once she was stateside, however, she was able to shift her focus to her studies in a way she hadn’t been able to before thanks to her teachers and team at World Relief Memphis.
“The teachers were really nice, and thankfully we had organizations like World Relief that helped us, you know, like getting used to the customs here,” she said. “[They] helped us get used to the environment here, and we’re grateful for that.”
Nearly six years later, Alliance and her siblings are thriving. In June, she will be graduating from high school, and in August she will begin her college career at the University of Memphis as part of their ROTC program thanks to the encouragement of one of her 10th grade teachers.
“When I was in high school, I wanted to find myself,” Alliance said. “It wasn’t until 10th grade when I joined JROTC that I found this teacher. He was like a father to me because my dad is not here, and he was in the military, and he introduced me to the military life.”
To this day, they still talk on a daily basis. He checks on her about her schoolwork, encouraging her to continue even when it gets difficult. In return, Alliance perseveres, determined to break the cycle within her family and to make a difference in the society that’s welcomed and given so much to her.
“I want to challenge [myself], and I want to be able to stay fit, because people from my country don’t stay fit like that because all we do is go to school, graduate, and get married, and I want to do everything different,” Alliance explained. “I’m trying to break the family cycle, which is one of the reasons why I decided to join the army.”
In the fall, she will be doing just that as she starts her freshman year. In between ROTC trainings, she will be studying to become a pharmacist or psychologist.
“I care so much about health, and I want to get into medicine and having people cured. Because growing up, we would get sick, and [my grandma] would find some natural cures. Since the world is developed now, I want to be able to do that in a chemical way,” said Alliance, the eldest of five. “With psychology, I really want to help people with their problems because I know what I had to deal with as a child and where I am now, and I would really like teaching a way they can deal with their problems.”
No matter the path she chooses, Alliance will ensure that those who come after her will feel the safety and security that she does now. She may be caught in the occasional rainstorm on the way to school, but she knows that she and her family can build their lives in the U.S. in peace.
Alliance, we are so proud of you, and we cannot wait to see what the future holds for you!