How My School Helped Me Find My Way in America, Raise Two Children and Be the First in My Family to Graduate

During my last trips to visit family in Rwanda and the Congo, I was able to connect with countless people who are working on reconciliation from a war that ravaged the area, and improving education for those who were unable to access it. Read about Feza Immaculee’s story of being a refugee and the supports she found from her teachers.

I was born in Congo in 1994 in the war that killed 5 million people. My family migrated to Rwanda to a refugee camp where I spent the first 18 years of my life. At the end of my time there, I gave birth to my first child. In the camp there was not enough food, clothes or shelter. In the camp there were no dreams of tomorrow.

I had a chance to escape that life in 2012. I came here to the United States and started a new life with my young daughter. I went to the welfare office in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and a caseworker said that I should consider Phoenix Charter Academy. I had never been to any school or class before in my life, and did not read or write in any language. It was hard for me, and I know it was hard for my teachers. I would go home and cry because I didn’t know what I was doing.

But, I studied hard, I practiced, I asked my teachers for help and I started passing with As and Bs. But in my senior year, I got pregnant with my second child. I had morning sickness and trouble with housing, and as a result I stopped coming to school. But, my teachers came to my house and encouraged me to graduate and get back on track.

I learned that in order to achieve at a high level you have to have confidence in yourself. It is hard, but you can do it, be patient and never give up. I learned that it’s okay to make mistakes because the more mistakes you make the better you become, because mistakes give you the desire to fix what you did wrong. I worked hard to improve my grades and I graduated from Phoenix Charter Academy in Chelsea in June of 2017.

This week I graduate from a certified nursing assistant and computer skills training program at Jewish Vocational Services in Boston. The training was a full day program, 40 hours a week. I finished this program because Phoenix taught time management skills, to ask for help when I need it and never to give up in anything that I do. Phoenix is a family to me, they gave me the personal support I needed to live—everything from a car seat to a winter jacket for me and my child.

In June, I will start at Bunker Hill taking classes to become a registered nurse. Graduating for me is so important because no one in my family ever went to school, not even kindergarten. I want my children to know that it does not matter who you are, where you came from, or who your parents are, don’t give up and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.

This was originally published on Education Post’s blog page.

Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.


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