A refugee student overcomes incredible odds to graduate from high school in the U.S.
June 27, 2014 by Emily Sernaker
|Patrick Karera (center) poses for a graduation day photo with his proud parents. He is the first member of his family to graduate from high school. Photo: Mary Nelle Hall/IRC|
SILVER SPRING, Md. - When Patrick Karera, a Congolese refugee, graduated from high school this spring, staff from the International Rescue Committee were there to cheer him on. Those who knew him when he arrived in the United States remember how ill he was. Indeed, there was a time when it was unclear whether he would live to see his next birthday. Today, he is a healthy, affectionate young man about to enroll at a community college, his long ordeal over and his new life ahead.
Patrick grew up in a refugee camp in Rwanda. When he was very young, his family fled the Democratic Republic of Congo to escape the violence plaguing that country. “The camp in Rwanda wasn't a good life,” Patrick recalls. “People were dying every day from diseases like malaria. Others had been wounded by machetes and bullets.”
Patrick, too, suffered, not only from extreme hunger and dehydration, but also from a series of complex health issues stemming from a serious heart condition. When he and his family were relocated to the Washington, D.C., area, Patrick was frail and emaciated, an exhausted child unable to speak English. Hannah Stocks, an IRC caseworker, took him from the airport directly to the hospital. He underwent surgery at National Children’s Medical Center that first week to replace faulty heart valves. It was a success.
“As long as I don’t over exercise, I am fine,” he says, tapping his chest. “I am normal.”
In the years following his surgery, Patrick and his family received assistance from the IRC, and he continues to benefit from our refugee youth program that meets weekly to assist students with homework and cultural integration. Patrick worked with mentors and IRC staff to prepare for his high-school exit exams and the SAT boards.
|Patrick’s former case manager, Hannah Stocks, delights in his graduation. Hannah was the one who took him to the hospital when he first arrived in the United States. Photo: Mary Nelle Hall/IRC|
“They are really patient,” he says about IRC workers, grinning infectiously. “With IRC staff, yes, they work and get paid, but I don’t think they are just working to get paid. They work for people; if people need help, they help them.”
Patrick remembers his health struggles and dreams of becoming a nurse or a doctor so he can help others. His parents are incredibly proud of the first member of their family to graduate high school. He is enjoying the celebrations, something he says he will never forget.
“If I look back at how it was before,” he says, “and look at who I am right now, it is a very good thing.”