The IRC in Atlanta first welcomed Joyeuse “Joy” Muhoza and her family to Georgia in August 2016, shortly before her 18th birthday. In this must-read interview, Joy shares her journey over the last four years—from working in poultry processing to now studying for her Bachelor of Science in Nursing.  

2017 - “You just realize that you’re starting afresh.”

Joy at a Connect 2 Success social event in 2017.
Photo: Landon Trust and Lexi Kim

The IRC in Atlanta first welcomed Joyeuse “Joy” Muhoza and her family to Georgia in August 2016, shortly before her 18th birthday. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joy—along with her parents and three younger siblings—lived as a refugee in Kampala, Uganda for 14 years before being given the opportunity to resettle in the United States. “You just realize that you’re starting afresh,” Joy shared. “For me, I came with all these expectations of going to school and having a life and then I realized that what I expected was totally different from what I found.” She feels “blessed” to have arrived just as the IRC in Atlanta’s Connect 2 Success (C2S) program was launching.

C2S is uniquely designed to help refugee young adults age 16 to 24—like Joy—pursue their education and career goals. Joy worked with the C2S team to create a 10-year plan for her future. “I wanted to work in a place where I could help people. I didn’t know exactly which field, but I wanted to be in a place where I could be giving back all the time. And so, I chose nursing.”

Joy was matched with an IRC volunteer mentor, Susan Kalus, “one of the best people that [Joy has] met through IRC” and now, someone who is “more like family” to her. The C2S team helped Joy to get her high school transcripts from Kampala evaluated, and she worked with Susan every weekend throughout 2017 to study for her SATs—all while working long hours during the week at a poultry processing factory.

2018 – “Every refugee has a right to be anything they want to be.” 

Joy and her family with IRC volunteer mentor, Susan Kalus.

While Joy’s first job in the U.S. was in poultry processing, she remained committed to her dream of becoming a nurse. After she had been here for one year and was eligible to obtain her green card, Joy worked with the Connect 2 Success (C2S) team to enroll at Georgia State University – Perimeter College in the spring of 2018 to pursue her Associate of Science in Health Science Professions. “I was excited and at the same time I was scared because I had to leave my job and get a job that goes with my schedule,” shared Joy. “Learning how to do things online was also a different thing, so everything was like a whole new change again.”

Undaunted by these changes, Joy would soon become an informal mentor to new C2S students starting at GSU Perimeter, and to this day continues to support the program by speaking on career panels, sharing her experiences and encouraging other young people not to give up on their dreams. “I believe every refugee has a right to be anything they want to be. They have a right to live up to the best of their lives like any other people, like any other citizens of this country. And I think IRC is doing great on that part of, you know, pushing us there.” In the summer of 2018, Joy worked with the IRC in Atlanta’s Career Development program and received a scholarship to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

2019 – “Everyone deserves a chance to prove themselves.”

The sky is the limit for future nurse, Joyeuse Muhoza.

A newly qualified Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and still in pursuit of her associate degree, Joy was connected to a job opportunity at the Winship Cancer Institute’s Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Center through a friend at her church in early 2019. “I told her my story and I told her that I wanted to work in a hospital, but I didn’t know how, so she went ahead and talked to her manager,” shared Joy. She earned an interview for a Patient Care Assistant position and impressed the hiring manager with her passion and confidence. “I was honest. I said, ‘I came here as a refugee. This is my first healthcare job. But all I know is I love this and I’m going to do it well.’ She gave me a chance and I think that everyone deserves a chance to prove themselves.”

The Patient Care Assistant role at Emory is a dream come true for Joy and she’s always smiling when she starts her Friday shift. “When you find a patient when they come back and visit, and they are better than they were—that is what gives me joy each and every day. Working with these patients through their worst and then seeing them at their best.” Joy’s gratitude for the staff and supporters of the IRC in Atlanta is abundant. “I wouldn’t have gotten the job that I have if I didn’t go through the IRC’s CNA program and they gave us this amazing scholarship. I don’t know how much more thankful I could be for all these amazing things that Sharita [the IRC’s C2S Program Coordinator] and the whole crew are doing, you guys are just amazing.”

2020 - “Self-actualization is everything.”

Now 22, Joy is a Patient Care Assistant at the Winship Cancer Institute and studying for her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Chamberlain University.

Joy graduated with her Associate of Science degree in early 2020 and was accepted to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program at Chamberlain University’s College of Nursing, commencing her studies this September—all virtual, for now. She will graduate with her BSN in 2022 and plans to pursue her Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) shortly after. “I would love to secure my future as I grow up, and I would love to offer as much knowledge and wisdom as much as I can,” shared Joy.

She hopes to one day open a medical facility in Clarkston, to show other young refugees that anything is possible for them to achieve. “When I just got here there were many people who told me, ‘You can’t get into college; that is not something that refugees do.’ I knew deep inside me that we have a way around this, and we can get out there too.”

Now 22, Joy is busy with work, studying, church, family and supporting her peers in the community. She also saves money each month to pay school tuition for several children in a Ugandan refugee camp and checks in regularly with them. “Someone thought that I can be in school and do something with my life and if I didn’t get that help in the initial stages then I wouldn’t be here where I am right now. So, I try to help as much as I can.”

Before the holidays, Joy’s family will move into their new house in Stone Mountain as first-time homeowners. Citizenship is in the cards for 2021, too—as the family will have been U.S. permanent residents for the required minimum of five years—completing their new American journey. “Self-actualization is everything. When you get to know your values, when you get to know your desires, the things that you want to do in life and then you keep pursuing them—the sky is the limit.”


Please save the date and support the IRC in Atlanta for GAgives on #GivingTuesdayDecember 1, 2020—and help us reach our goal of raising $30,000 so that we can continue to meet the needs of refugees and immigrants in Georgia. No donation amount is too small!

To learn more about the work of the IRC in Atlanta and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Senior Development Manager, Heloise Ahoure, at [email protected] or 678-636-8941.  

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