By Carolyn McAllister*
This is a success story. It has a happy ending. It’s also the story of suffering and pain. It’s Felly’s story. Felly is one of my pre-nursing students at Montgomery College. She came to me a few months ago to request assistance in preparing for the Health Science entrance exam, the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS).
When I began working with Felly, I noticed that she never smiled. As I tried to establish a rapport with her, Felly slowly began opening up to me, but she still did not smile. She eventually shared her current situation with me: she is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire. Her story goes like this:
Felly is from a small village in the Congo, where she lived with her single-mother. They lived simply, and although life was not easy for them, they were content. Felly’s mother earned money by working in the crop fields, and then later trying to sell the vegetables by carrying them around to all the neighbors in the village. Her mother insisted that Felly receive an education so that she could enjoy a better lifestyle. Despite being poor, her mother somehow found the financial means to send Felly to a small school in the village.
Everything changed when Felly turned 12 years old. In 1996 the Congolese Civil Wars erupted and lasted many years. During that tumultuous time, more than five million people died. The lucky ones, like Felly and her mother, escaped to Tanzania, where they found protection in a refugee camp.
Although they were safe in the refugee camp, life there was anything but easy. When they first arrived, there was no place for them to live. Instead, they were required to build their own house, using nothing more than a shovel, bucket, and a mold for the bricks. They collected tree branches from the forest to make a roof. Thankfully, other refugees were willing to assist them, and one week later, their house was finished.
Felly and her mother lived in the refugee camp for approximately 16 years. Life was very difficult for them. Once a week they walked for two hours (each way) to receive their weekly food ration: corn and peas. Water was scarce; they had to walk a long distance to receive water, which they carried home in a large pot on their heads. Laundry was washed in the river.
Many of the refugees had lost all hope of returning to a normal way of life again. Felly had not. While in the refugee camp, she completed high school and received a diploma. She eventually found a job working as a cook in the camp. In addition, she met the man who would later become her husband. Together they built a house of their own in the camp and started a family.
The news that Felly and her family had been waiting so long to hear had finally arrived–she and her family were granted refugee status and were subsequently relocated to Takoma Park. They learned English, and the girls started school. Both Felly and her husband found jobs, and Felly enrolled at MC. She spent her days attending classes and visiting the computer lab, completing assignments and trying to improve her English. In the late evenings she worked at a local bakery, packaging loaves of bread.
Today, things are looking up for Felly. As she completes her pre-nursing classes this fall, she will also continue to prepare for the TEAS examination. She plans to apply to MC’s Nursing program in the Spring. She recently started working as an interpreter––a job which had been advertised to MC students on the eJobs site. She is now making more than twice the salary she earned as a bread packer, and she is no longer required to work late at night.
Despite the suffering and hardships Felly has endured, she continues to look forward, believing that something good will come from her experiences. Although her path has been long and arduous, she has never given up. Her eyes seem to light up now, and she is always smiling!
*Carolyn McAllister, Md. Ed,. Is the Nursing Pre-Admission Retention Coordinator for the Nursing Department at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus