Mukasa Agnes Flavia, born in Uganda, left as a refugee in 2008 during political distress in her country. For the next 11 years Flavia lived in Kenya, at Kakuma, a refugee camp. Kakuma, meaning “nowhere” in Swahili, is the largest refugee and asylum seeking refugee camp in the world.
After 11 years living in the desert of Kakuma, Flavia and her family of five were approved for resettlement to the United States after an adjudication process conducted by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as well as extensive security and medical checks required by the U.S. government. “Refugees who are approved for resettlement feel like their dream has come true,” said Flavia, “Getting this chance is a big blessing, a process that can take years… Ours started when I was three months pregnant with my third child.”
In November of 2015, Flavia and her family did their resettlement interview known as “profiling.” She recalled that time to be joy filled as things seemed to be moving forward quickly. Her baby girl was born and her family received an approval letter from the United States Embassy just one year after their profiling interview, which was swift in comparison to other people in her shoes. They waited two years until they received a call to prepare for the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services Interview. Over the course of the following months Flavia resigned from her job in preparation to travel to the U.S. Her family studied and did extensive medical testing and screenings.
It was not until March of 2019 that they were called for their last checkups. This was a very emotional time for Flavia: “It is always hard and painful to say goodbye to friends who were there for you when you needed them most. And you are not sure whether you will ever see them again - that is part of life anyway,” said Flavia. On April 31, 2019, Flavia left her friends who were like family, her heart pounding out of her chest as she boarded a plane that would eventually take her to Salt Lake City, Utah.
The group of refugees leaving Kakuma, including Flavia and her family, had to board a small plane, the first time any of them had flown or traveled abroad. “It was the first time we had traveled on an airplane. We all screamed! I thought the flight attendant would surely have a story to tell their friends,” Flavia laughed looking back on this memory. Their journey to the U.S. took 24 hours. Emotions flooded her body as she was tired, happy and anxious at the same time. When her family got to the Salt Lake City airport, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) staff was waiting for them. Flavia’s children were crying—their tears filled with exhaustion—but they were in Utah, and they were on their way to their new life.
Flavia’s family was brought to their new apartment filled with furniture including beds, a dining table, chairs, lamps, rugs and more.
“I could not believe I was finally out of that desert, that life, out of that muddy house and brought to the United States,” said Flavia. “We all took a warm shower, the IRC staff brought us a warm dish of rice and fish. We ate and slept. I believe everyone had a wonderful night. It was time for us to start a new life … then and there.”
During the first 90 days after being resettled in Utah, Flavia’s family attended the IRC cultural orientation, which introduces community resources and educates newcomers to a variety of topics, such as the laws in the U.S. Flavia knew that she was going to need to get a job to support her family. She applied at the elementary school that her kids were enrolled in as a cook. “I remember being asked if I had any experience in nutrition work. I told her that I had been cooking for my husband and kids for ten years and I think that’s enough experience to do the job. She genuinely laughed and I left the interview room knowing that I had already gotten the job,” said Flavia.
In the coming months, Flavia would have to face many challenges, in her words “storms.” The Covid-19 pandemic came in 2020, less than a year after Flavia moved to the U.S.. She continued to work at the school as a cook, in a meat factory and as a cook at the Cheesecake Factory. Many of her pains in this time included putting enough food on the table for her family, being a caretaker for her 81-year-old mother-in-law, and continuing to find work and income during a shutdown that shook the world.
These times were particularly hard for her with heightened racial tensions in the U.S. During a walk in the park with her young children, Flavia came face-to-face with the realities of xenophobia and racism; a blunt & jarring experience. She knew her heart would break more than once for herself and for her children in this country.
“I soon realized to be successful in America, you have to walk and move faster, you have to keep time and work very hard. Life in America is like dancing in the rain and we cannot wait for the storm to stop, we (immigrants) need to learn how to dance in this rain.”
A heartfelt thanks from all of us at the IRC in Salt Lake Cityto Mukasa Agnes Flavia, for sharing her story with us in such detail and beauty. Part two of her story will be available soon.
With support from the IRC in Salt Lake City, people like Flavia and her family are able to rebuild their lives and thrive in Utah. Robust programming and expert staff help smooth the process to re-establishing in a new country. Consider making a one-time gift or starting a monthly contribution in support of our work at Rescue.org/GiveSLC. 100% of contributions remain in Utah to support our local work.