Isabel and her family came to Charlottesville from Uganda two years ago, having fled violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) years earlier. Isabel, then 17, enrolled in high school in Charlottesville. Initially, she faced academic and social challenges at school. Getting to know everyone in her new school proved difficult at first and familiarizing herself with the school system took time. “In the beginning it was kind of hard but I had friends and I kept pushing myself…It’s now easy, and the teachers have been great,” says Isabel, who is now thriving socially and academically. Isabel says that some of her favorite aspects of her education have been history classes and helping other refugee students with English. Many of her teachers ask her to help teach English or build on preexisting skills for students recently resettled from Africa. She plans to graduate high school next June and hopes to attend college in her new home, Virginia.
Isabel joined the MYVA (Mentoring Youth in Virginia) Program expressing interest in exploring career options related to law, human rights, and justice issues, as well as gaining support with English acquisition and preparing for graduation. MYVA supports educational and vocational advancement for youth between the ages of 15 and 24. Participants receive training in college preparedness or vocational counseling and leadership development. Isabel was matched with a mentor whose background is in satellite communications and administration, and who is active and well-connected in the community. Isabel’s mentor helped her explore her interest in pursuing family law, introducing her to a law student at the University of Virginia. The mentor also encouraged her to pursue her keen interest in mathematics. Together they watched the movie “Hidden Figures” and discussed the characters as role models. Isabel talked to her mentor about the pros and cons of finishing her GED early versus graduating from high school, as well as other training programs related to the healthcare field. Isabel has also expressed interest in studying human resources and hopes to use her degree to one day return to the DRC and help in orphanages or hospitals — she wants to focus on work that helps others, using the skills she’s learned in Virginia. Isabel continues to work and support her family while she pursues her studies as well as assisting her neighbors who don’t speak English as fluently.
The MYVA program has so far served 14 students and their mentors. Mentors are selected based on the student’s interests and the mentor’s experience. If you are interested in sharing your expertise with an aspiring young person, please contact the IRC in Charlottesville Volunteer Coordinator, Katie Heroux, at Katie.Heroux [at] rescue.org.
This story was written by IRC Intern, Leah Erwin, a fourth-year student at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.