Lucy’s story: ‘We lost everything and were forced to start over’

Lucy MulenziLucy Mulenzi is from the Republic of Rwanda. Warring political factions held an uneasy peace until an assassination in the mid-1990s threw the country into turmoil. In the course of just 100 days, between 500,000 and 1 million Rwandans were killed. Millions fled their homes.

Chased by violence and death, Lucy, her mother and siblings lived for years in a refugee camp before she was cleared for resettlement in the United States. This is Lucy’s story: a journey from uncertainty to stability to self-determination. It is a story of how education has allowed her to take control of her life. It’s a story of hope, but also one of tremendous personal courage.

Lucy’s story:

My family and I (mother, two brothers and two younger sisters) became refugees in 1997 due to the political instability in Rwanda. My father was killed, we lost everything and were forced to start over.

Escaping for our lives, we left Rwanda for Tanzania then to Zambia. When we arrived in Zambia, we registered with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) program for assistance and protection. We lived in Zambia for 13 years and for the last five were placed at Mayukwayukwa refugee camp where we lived until we were approved to come to America. Life in the camp was not easy, there were no jobs and one had to survive on the very little handouts from the UNHCR. Mother was very sick but was able to work as a business woman to provide for us and pay for my primary education.

The happiest day of our lives was February 18, 2010, when we arrived to Houston and were greeted by Catholic Charities staff. I remember we were picked from the airport by Mr. Peter Stranger who took us to our apartment on Westpark and informed us that our case manager, Mr. Andre Shango would arrive in the morning.

When Andre arrived, he introduced himself to us saying that he would help us resettle. He gave us the orientation and informed us that our refugee program will help us for six months and that after we would be assigned another case manager. I was very worried since Mother was very sick. But Andre calmed us and took her to the doctor right away. He made sure that she got all the medical care she needed. When I saw this I was very relieved. I knew everything would be ok. From then on, Andre arranged many doctors appointments for which I had to be present. I put off my education to assist her.

Two months later, Ms. Margaret Ayot of Catholic Charities introduced us to the St. Laurence church group of volunteers who would sponsor us. They gave us many donations and paid our rent for a few months. One of the volunteers asked about our interest in school and piqued my interest to go to college.

Then Andre arranged for us to meet Ms. Shirin Herman, HISD Refugee Program liaison, who took me to Houston Community College (HCC) and assisted me in understanding the school’s requirements. I registered right away. I studied courses that could help me get admitted to nursing school. As I went to HCC, I worked at a nursing home and continued to help my mother with her doctors appointments.

With Margaret’s help, I attended interpreter training provided by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Austin, at Catholic Charities’ main office. This certification training helped me to become a trained interpreter for Catholic Charities- URM program and hospitals and clinics as requested. Catholic Charities worked with me around my school schedule so I could interpret which was very helpful and I received my Associates of Arts degree from HCC in May of 2013.

In 2013 I applied to the Prairie View A&M University College of Nursing. Margaret came with me to help me apply. I was accepted to start in spring of 2014 and I was able to transfer my associate’s degree from HCC to Prairie View. I will graduate May 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

I would like to work with HIV and other infectious diseases in a major hospital. Later I plan to continue with my education and work on obtaining a Master’s degree in Public Health. In December, I celebrated a traditional engagement ceremony to Mr. Garry from Zambia. We plan to go to Zambia in July for the wedding.

I am very grateful to Catholic Charities for everything they have done for my family and for the assistance they have given us. I am now an American citizen, thanks to their help with both my permanent resident and citizenship applications. I am particularly grateful for Andre and Margaret who have always been there for me to help me and guide me. You have done so much for me and my family and I thank you.