Noyota and Mark

How RefugeeOne to helping these two students to thrive

Nyota remembers her time in the refugee camp well; it was where she was born. Her parents fled war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and spent ten years in Tanzania waiting to be resettled.

​For Nyota, growing up in a refugee camp severely constrained her opportunities. “Being born as a refugee… all my dreams were shattered,” recalls Nyota. “…I never thought I would be able to go to college or get an education.”

Now, Nyota is starting her third year at DePaul University in Chicago, overjoyed to pursue an accounting degree. Nyota’s journey to college has not been straightforward. Her family arrived in Chicago in 2016 with almost nothing.

RefugeeOne helped enroll her at Sullivan High School as a freshman. It was an arduous start—she was two years older than her peers and didn’t speak a word of English. The school district placed her, like all refugees, based on her age, not her level of education.

However, with support from her family and help from RefugeeOne staff and volunteers, Nyota excelled and graduated on time with multiple college offers.

Nyota is one of many students RefugeeOne has supported in their college journey.

Mark Monke arrived alone in 2019 at the age of 22, as a refugee from Ukraine. Now, he is pursuing his Associate’s degree.

“I do school part-time and I work part-time. It’s not easy, but some people take on even more,” commented Mark. He is studying computer science at Truman College, a City College of Chicago, to fulfill his dream of one day working for a video game design company in California. As refugees, Mark and Nyota have faced similar obstacles in their goal of earning a college degree here. “Even if you speak English well, it’s very difficult to navigate the educational system and to just understand what to do. What is GPA? What is a GED?” said Mark, echoing the feelings of so many refugees entering higher education.

​For Nyota, COVID disrupted her first years of college. Her classes were held online, and she did not meet her professors face-to-face until her second year of college.

Mark and Nyota have not had to face the challenges alone.

Staff, volunteers, and supporters from RefugeeOne have rallied to both of their causes. Nyota gave thanks to her volunteer tutor, Angela, who greatly supported her throughout her education. “Going to tour colleges [and] applying for financial aid; she [Angela] helped me a lot,” recalled Nyota. After overcoming so much Nyota looked back on her experience, commenting, “I am proud of myself for just being able to keep up with school and belong[ing] to a community.”

Mark praised RefugeeOne staff as vital in navigating all the cryptic details of college admission and scholarships. “I truly couldn’t believe how great [RefugeeOne staff] were. I feel just so lucky to have met people like Jamie [Youth and Advocacy Coordinator], and there are so many others at this organization that have been truly helpful and just like essential to establishing myself here,” Mark recalled fondly. Mark noted several high points in his college career. With the help of RefugeeOne, he secured a Pell grant, MAP grant, and the $10,000 Julia Stasch Scholarship for Refugees. The brightest moment was when his mother arrived safely in the U.S. from Ukraine this summer, after 3 years apart.

​After overcoming so much, Nyota looked back on her experience, commenting, “I am proud of myself for just being able to keep up with school and belong[ing] to a community.” She gave a note of advice to refugees, saying; “If they want to pursue an education, everything is harder. Just keep going, and you’ll get there.”

Your generosity means refugees are not left to face challenges alone. Through English classes, employment coaching, legal guidance, mental health care, volunteer mentors, and so much more, newcomers are given the opportunity to start again.


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