In the 1980's, Maria Ganyans was working as an elementary school teacher in Sudan when civil war erupted. The conflict progressed, violence increased, and her husband was killed, leaving Maria alone to care for four children. With fewer and fewer places to find refuge from the war, Maria decided to flee. She traveled for weeks on foot to Ethiopia, carrying one son on her back and pulling the others by hand. Once there, she remained in a refugee camp for over a year before new violence forced them to escape. Maria and many other refugees walked back to Sudan, and, finding no safety, continued on to Kenya. After a journey of several hundred miles, she and her children remained in Kenyan refugee camp for two more years. Finally, in 1997, Maria was accepted into the United States.
She arrived in South Dakota, where she stayed for only a few months before settling in Omaha. Several years later, Habitat for Humanity selected her for homeownership. With plenty of new free space, Maria decided to begin providing child care, which she has now done for over five years, quickly earning state licensing. Currently, Maria cares for over 10 children, and, among her own kids, one is soon entering college, two are already in college, another is in medical school, and the last graduated with a degree in computer science. And, even after so much progress, Maria herself intends to enter school to earn a degree in early childhood education.
A friend said of Maria, "She is a hard worker, determined, inspiring, especially considering her struggle: a single mom with six children and a refugee. She is very successful." Another said, "Imagine any good quality and you can apply that to Maria."
Sudanese Family from Catholic Social Services
In September of 2013, a small Sudanese family arrived in Lincoln, NE after a tiresome journey from Turkey. The family was originally assigned to be resettled in Lansing, MI, but after spending only two days there, they decided to come to Lincoln where they had many friends. The father and mother of just a 10 month old baby packed up their bags and used the rest of their money on three bus tickets to Omaha in hopes that Nebraska would better suit them. They promptly came to Catholic Social Services, a resettlement site that many of their fellow friends had been resettled through. After transferring their case, I was able to place them in an apartment very quickly near their relatives. Needless to say, the family breathed a sigh of relief upon their first steps into their newly furnished apartment - "it was a dream come true," said the mother.
After just two days, I taught the father to ride the city bus to SCC's ESL class at 17th and F. He studied as hard as he could with the help of his phenomenally fluent wife who had learned English by watching Oprah religiously while in Turkey. Two months passed and the father earned a job at a local Amigo's restaurant, yet another dream come true for a family that had gone through so much. It did not take long for the Amigo's manager to realize the father's dedicated work ethic. I recall knocking on their door one day and the father answering ecstatically, waving the Amigo's keys in the air. He had done so well that the manager put him in charge of opening the restaurant each morning at 5:00AM. After six months of being in Lincoln, the wife decided to tag along and work the evening shift at Amigo's. "We want the best future for our child; we want him to go to college, so we must work. But it doesn't feel like work because I am so happy with everyone I work with."
Last month, I visited the family to apply for their green cards. They told me they wished to donate back the furniture we gave to them so that another family of refugees could use it. They had earned enough to go buy brand new furniture at a local store. The mother can hardly hold back a smile as she is telling me this. This is just one simple story of a small family who gained so much through the hard work and advocacy of Lincoln's welcoming community.
Dler Muhammed from Lincoln Literacy
Ever wish you had a better job? Consider the career path of Dler Muhammed. He and his wife Bari are refugees from the carnage in Iraq. While living there, Dler helped the U.S. Armed forces as a minesweeper. His job was to find the notorious "improvised explosive devices" (IEDs) hidden along roadsides and let U.S. troops know so that they could be safely defused or detonated. Some job!
After being granted permission to come here as refugees, the couple enrolled in Lincoln Literacy's Workforce Readiness English classes. Both tested at very low levels of English when they started in March 2013, but Dler and Bari rocketed ahead. He took five different classes every week, and moved from Level 1 to Level 4 in just over a year - triple the predicted advance for an adult student. In the meantime, Dler got a job at Wal-Mart, and then after reaching Level 4, he was able to land a good job at the manufacturer Molex - also a supporter of Lincoln Literacy.
Bari's no slouch. She went one better than her husband, going from Level 0 to Level 4. Now, she is about to become a mother, but Bari plans to resume her studies. The two of them agree that learning English is the key to a successful new life in America, where pretty much any job beats searching through roadside debris for IEDs. Lincoln Literacy's English Language & Literacy Academy has helped many others over the last year - and in so doing helped Nebraska businesses get their jobs done.