A day in the life of a refugee

Story and photos by WESLEY RYAN

Refugees, within the past year, have had to deal with a gargantuan amount of resistance. However, there are two refugee students who attend Salt Lake Community College who proudly live an American life and have aspirations they want to achieve.

Jemima Singoma

Walking across Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) with a beaming smile and a confident stride, you’ll see Jemima Singoma heading to her weekly meeting at the Refugee Club. There, she meets and enjoys the company of other refugees with similar stories to hers.

“When we first got here they immediately took us. They took us and separated us from our parents,” Singoma says, remembering the day she arrived in the United States at 13 years old. “We didn’t speak any English and they tried to put us in foster care.”

To this day, Singoma still doesn’t know why she and her brothers were temporarily separated from her family. All she knows is the United States government approached her and her family and tried creating more fear in their life. Possibly never seeing her family again, Singoma was forced into the care of strangers who didn’t speak the same language as her and her siblings. Singoma was eventually reunited with her family, but it won’t change what had happened.

Although Singoma recalls this moment being petrifying, she recounted the story through a smile and laughter, never showing a sign of resentment toward the American government. As a matter of fact, she plans on working within the American justice system in the future. Studying political science, she hopes to one day become a divorce judge, whether that’s in America or in her native Congo is a different story.

“I’d prefer to live back home, in Africa. Anywhere in Africa, or Nigeria,” Singoma says. “It’s just so beautiful all over.”

It’s not as simple as buying a plane ticket and flying over to Nigeria for the weekend. Working two jobs, going to school and caring for a child can prevent a lot of travel. However, Singoma is determined to give her daughter the life she deserves.

Only recently did Singoma pick up the second job at the Sephora warehouse in West Valley City, Utah. Although, Singoma says she prefers her job as an after-school teacher, mainly because of her love for kids. There, she teaches the kids the importance of being curious, math and proper grammar. Five days a week she will devote her time to school and work, but the weekends are when she relaxes.

On the weekends, you will see her in various dancing spots with a group of her friends she went with or met that night. Never breaking a smile and answering questions with a slight laugh, it’s quick to see why she’s so good at making friends.

Singoma is no different than most people in their 20s: going out with friends, exercising, dancing and meeting people. Nevertheless, she also has responsibilities and goals she needs to accomplish: finishing college, becoming a marriage counselor, raising a child and, finally, becoming a divorce judge. Singoma is your everyday person, the only difference is she has a different history.

Peter Muvunyi

Entering the international room you immediately see Peter Muvunyi helping another student with her math homework. Wearing a striped polo and innovative “toe shoes,” Muvunyi guides this student to the answer.

Muvunyi is a first-year student at SLCC, trying to get his surgical technician certificate. While he doesn’t particularly find the medical aspect interesting, he finds the life of a surgical technician enthralling. The main reason being its ability to lead to a better and easier life. Meanwhile, his work as the communication director for his church allows him to harness his other skills.

“I’m in charge of the communication and without me it’s pretty much chaos,” Muvunyi says. Every Saturday, Muvunyi goes to his church to set up and work the sound for the service. He makes sure the music is playing properly and all the microphones are set up correctly. Yet, the work he is doing and the courses he studies doesn’t relate to his dream.

“My dream goal is to own a school, it’s going to be high-tech though,” Muvunyi says. “Like, a fun, superhero kind of school. Have talented people come [work].” He’s already designed his future school in a program created by the architecture department. The architecture isn’t what interests him though, it’s the software and development aspects. Muvunyi doesn’t see his school being outstanding because of the way it was designed. He sees his dream school as being the best because of the softwares and programs being used to enhance the student’s learning, not their surroundings.

When it comes to Muvunyi’s dream, he will gladly admit it’s unlikely this will happen. It doesn’t stop him from continuing this interest of his; that’s what makes it a dream for him. Muvunyi has vastly different goals in mind compared to his dream though.

“My main goal is to just get a diploma that I can give to my mom, and then pursue my own interests,” Muvunyi says. He admits he could do both but his family wants him to follow societal norms. Muvunyi is no different than millions of Americans in this design. Conforming to certain ideals not only because it’s the societal ideology, but because it’s what his family believes. Nevertheless, like most people, he swerves from the road.

To rebel against his family’s ideals he will use bitcoin. His family doesn’t see the worth or understand the point of bitcoin. For them, bitcoin is a game where you waste your money. It’s not a realistic approach to life, which is why his mom still has some control over his rebellion. For example, whenever he wants to acquire more bitcoin he can only use so much of his own money or else his mom will put a stop to it. Muvunyi can understand his mom’s resistance to let him pursue this, considering he knows her and his brother are “straightforward people.” Being what Muvunyi considers a “city boy” or a “privileged refugee” is why he is able to experiment with these technologies.

“The thing is, there are different types of refugees. There are refugees who have fled and are in camps. Other refugees who have settled in a country and are able to provide themselves with the basic necessities. Then there are the refugees who have those things but live in camps,” Muvunyi says. “I am one of the refugees — my parents were financially stable, my mom was financially stable.”

Muvunyi’s hardships aren’t diluted by the fact he is considered a privileged refugee. Talking about the long arduous process of trying to acquire asylum, traveling for a year from Zambia, to Rwanda, to the United Kingdom and then, finally, the United States of America.

This isn’t out of the ordinary for his family, though. Watching his parents constantly try to find a place they can call their own, he saw what he wanted to change for himself. It was only natural Muvunyi would learn from his parents and adapt to a life he perceives as better.

Being a refugee since 2000, Muvunyi has had to acclimate to American culture and is still in the process of it. He knows it’s not an easy path, but he will make sure it is the best one he can create.

American Life

Singoma and Muvunyi are no different than Barbara working at Jamba Juice or Miguel, the personal trainer. However, with the sentiments being thrown around regarding refugees it’s hard for many people to understand refugees are just normal people with dreams like anyone else.

“Have various cultures side-by-side; show and highlight the differences. Celebrations and activities help the most,” said Jason Roberts, the advisor and founder of the Refugee Club at Salt Lake Community College. Going to a festival celebrating the culture or visiting a restaurant specializing in the food of a country with a high refugee population are simple ways to immerse oneself in these differences.

“There’s a war with good and bad. Refugees are just people,” Roberts says.

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