Rehani Mbula is a 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy participant and former refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rehani completed high school in just two years and now wants to use his education to help the migrants and refugees in his community.
This interview was conducted over email by LIRS Outreach Assistant, Janelle Fenyes.
Janelle Fenyes (JF): What drives you to advocate for migrants and refugees?
Rehani Mbula (RH): The reason why I decided to advocate for migrants and refugees is because I’m a refugee and I know what it means to be a refugee. I also recognize how migrants and refugees are struggling not only to receive their status as refugees but also with the challenges they face in their home countries. Once they move to the United States, they are hard workers, attend school, and contribute to our economy.
JF: Tell us about about your life journey.
RH: My family and I arrived in America with nothing but dreams and hope for a new beginning. What sets us, refugees, apart from people that grew up in America is our life experiences. I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I became a refugee at age five, running with my family from country to country escaping massacre, persecution, famine, and illnesses. The DRC has been in domestic and international wars with neighboring countries since 1996 with devastating consequences for its population. The war is the deadliest conflict since World War II, killing more than five million people and leaving half a million people as refugees.
The last camp where I lived in Tanzania had more than 60,000 refugees. Only a few refugees are granted legal status and protection. The United States government accepted our petition made through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and I landed in Texas on August 10, 2010. My family and I wanted to start a new life in the United States. I was counting the days until school started. Although I had an interrupted education, I had big dreams and I knew that only with education would it be possible to achieve my dreams. My dreams were not only about personal achievement that leads me to have a successful life but to help my country, fellow refugees, and others around me.
After I enrolled in school, I had many challenges, but I also had the support of the school staff, the teachers, and community volunteers who empowered and encouraged me to do my best in school. I worked two jobs to help support my family of 13. Countless hours of studying finally paid off. I finished high school in only two years through summer classes, credits by examination, and credit retrieval. I passed the state exit test and graduated Olive Wendell Holmes High School in June 2012. Then I completed my associate degree on May 9, 2015.
After graduating from high school, I have been a keynote speaker in many places like the Austin Symposium and different universities. I was featured in many different newspapers both nationally and locally. One of the famous newspapers articles is titled “Refugee gets a high school diploma in 2 years.” I’m currently working as a case manager with the Catholic Charities in Texas.
I want to finish this answer with the hope that my story will help you see refugees as human beings who want to leave our past suffering behind, rebuild our lives, and contribute to the country that embraced us as one of their own. Education is the driving force to make this possible. Education helps refugees restore our dignity.
JF: What do you like best about living in your hometown?
MB: Living in my hometown in the United States of America means everything to me. I may not have many words to answer this question because I can’t imagine how I feel while being in this town. I have been taken like a citizen while I haven’t yet applied.
JF: When you advocate for migrants and refugees on the advocacy day in Washington, D.C., what do you want to make sure and tell your legislators?
MB: First of all, I will thank the legislators for giving refugees and migrants the opportunity to live in the United States of America and start a new life. This process saves lives and contributes to America, not only economically, but also by creating a multicultural environment which helps Americans to experience more of the world without traveling abroad. Finally, I will ask my legislators to keep the doors open to other refugees and migrants.