My name is Sedrick Ntwali and I was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Due to ongoing conflict in the country, my family and I fled to Uganda in 2007 where we lived as refugees for almost 6 years.
I never thought I would have to move out of my country but the conflict forced us to do so. It was a very long trip and I remember sleeping outside for days before we found shelter in Kampala. There were a lot of challenges when we were living in Kampala as refugees. For our first year, my six brothers, my parents, and myself slept in a 4x6 room with no windows. When it rained outside, it rained inside too. Sickness, including malaria and typhoid, was a regular part of our lives. Coming from a French-speaking country, attending a school taught in English was incredibly hard. My parents could not afford our education and sometimes we only ate once a day. Despite all that, I decided to keep my head up, stay motivated, and mobilize other young people by creating an organization where youth could discuss issues affecting their lives, stay positive, and hope for the best with one another’s support.
When I arrived in the USA, I had such high expectations. After a few months, I realized that I would have to work very hard and hustle to make the most of my circumstances. The culture, the systems of living, and pretty much everything were different from my home country. There was some culture shock and I quickly discovered that I would have to adapt to better integrate myself. There were also a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about refuges in the USA. Many people in America think that refugees are miserable, poor, beggars who are illiterate. They forget that being a refugee is just a situation in someone’s life, not a disability or a personality trait. I faced most of these biases but did not allow myself to be judged or affected by these sentiments.
I demonstrated to people around me that refugees are people like everyone else. I spoke out and advocated for others to prove those discriminating against us wrong. Immigrants and refugees should be given the same opportunities to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society as other Americans. Refugee youth should not be treated solely as strangers or consumers of public benefits. Providing trainings and opportunities like other young people receive would help not only refugees themselves but the greater society, much more than judgment and isolation. This is very important to consider because immigrants built this country and the new American generations are the people who will continue to make this county better, not bigotry or any other type of discrimination.
For me, to achieve success is to achieve your life goals without being deterred by fear or doubt. I am energized by seeing people come together to make change. I am also passionate about seeing other grassroots organizations and refugee communities grow and develop into the leaders of their own people. Writing refugee stories, like Dream Refugee and my own thoughts that I share in my blog (www.sauti-voice.com) supports these communities with connecting narratives. My wife and I work with groups in refugee camps in Uganda and Congo, supporting them through organizational development and providing resources through our organization Your Platform (www.itsyourplatform.org ). I’ve been given so many opportunities in the United States. I have been able to go to school and work with great refugee service organizations like the International Rescue Committee, ResCare Workforce Solutions, and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. I feel most accomplished by helping people better understand the refugee experience by sharing my story and advocating for the continued open doors for resettlement to this country.
Refugees are among some of the hardest working and motivated people in the U.S. because they know how big a deal it is to have a second chance at a fulfilling, safe, and healthy life. America is one of the most powerful and wealthy countries on the planet. Its position of influence is known and admired by the world. Even thought it’s never been my dream country, I think the United States has a lot to offer and there is a lot of opportunity for those who work hard to make their dreams come true. I also believe that America can easily empower refugees and other new Americans through job access, easy integration, and equal treatment without discrimination of color, gender, or religion.
Some of the advice I would give to current or former refugees, especially youth, is to stay out of trouble, because the convoluted rules and laws of this country can easily mess up someone’s life in a moment if you aren’t careful. If you have the chance to go to school, take advantage of it. Education is the most important resource needed to help you thrive. Work hard and do your best to be self-sufficient, pay taxes, and further contribute to the development of this country. Never forget your country of origin, your culture, or traditions. Most importantly, keep in mind something I repeat to myself everyday: “Being a refugee is not a choice, but a circumstance.”