Clemence Mukamwiza, 16 year old refugee

A letter written by 16 year old Clemence Mukamwiza, who was resettled by the IRC in Silver Spring. She contrasts her life in Congo and Rwanda to her life in the United States and reflects on the prospect of eventually having children who will be raised in the United States.

I moved from Congo as a refugee to Rwanda. Life was hard. Even though I was very young I heard my family talking about how hard it was. As I grew up I knew more and more about my country. We went to the camp called Nyabiheke when I was about 7 years old. Life there was hard because there was not enough food. We would get food each month and sometimes it was enough but sometimes not. When it was not enough my mom would have to work. She would be a teacher for elementary school. It was hard for her because she had to do everything for me and my brother. My father was not there to help. 

In the camps they picked different families to move to the United States. It wasn’t random but I don’t know why we were chosen. When she found out we were moving she was so happy. She was so happy because in Rwanda you are finished with school in 6th grade. I was in 6th grade and she knew that we didn’t have money for me to stay in school after that. It took about 1 year to do all the interviews and papers to move here. 

When I got off the plane it was my first time in this country. It was warm because it was September. I couldn’t believe that I was in the United States. I had heard a lot about the United States, but it wasn’t like I thought it would be. The United States is a nice country to live in but it’s not easy to live here. For young people like me it makes things easier because education is free until college. Public school also gives you transportation. But in my country we used to walk 30 or 45 minutes to school. For older people it’s hard to live here because they have to work. Life is hard for them especially when they don’t speak English or have an education. They have to work and don’t have a chance to get an education. 

I am happy that my children will grow up here. I will tell them about Rwanda and that it was hard so they will care about their parents’ past. I will make them visit my country so they can really understand how it is different. I don’t think they will ever really understand how hard it was for us when I was coming here. They will always speak English and be in schools from elementary school here so they won’t have to be new like I was. Their life won’t be hard as mine was. 

This is my story. 

By Clemence Mukamwiza