Grace Kayesu is a 26-year-old Congolese woman from Uganda. Along with her 8 siblings, Grace came to the US in August of 2021 after losing her parents in Africa. When she was resettled in Amarillo, Grace was interested in going to college, but was told she should focus instead on getting a job at JBS, a local meatpacking plant. Grace was very passionate about continuing her education, and had even managed to bring her high school diploma with her all the way from Uganda. Grace knew that she did not want to work at a meatpacking plant for the rest of her life, so with the help of a friend, she figured out how to enroll in classes at Amarillo College.
Navigating a new culture and education system while also working full time at a physically demanding job was no small task. Grace and her older siblings are responsible for working jobs to provide for the younger kids while also keeping them clothed, fed and in school every week. It is not uncommon for her to work 10 hours at the plant and then come home to care for children and do house work before working on her studies.
Mary was matched with Grace as a mentor in our Face to Face program shortly after Grace began her studies at AC. Mary, like all of us, couldn’t believe how much Grace was managing to do. She witnessed Grace’s passion for education not only in her pursuit of an Associate’s Degree, but also in the way she encouraged all of her siblings to work hard in school and pursue higher education for themselves.
As a mentor, Mary helped bridge the gaps, showing Grace how to access her classes and coursework online. So far, she has taken classes in English, Public Speaking and Math. Grace doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do with her education, but she knows it’s a step towards something better, and she’s working as hard as she can to get there.
The most incredible part of this story, however, has just unfolded in the past couple of months. Not only has Grace poured herself into ensuring the success and stability of her own family, she wants to extend her reach to assist other refugees who value education as much as she does. Once Grace figured out how to navigate the community college system, it fueled a new passion in her – to help other refugees get into college.
When Mary heard Grace express the desire to do something more, she reached out to our Mentorship Coordinator to get the names of other refugees in our program who have expressed a desire to enroll at AC. A couple of weeks ago, Grace met up with three recently-arrived Afghans at a school park (pictured above). Mary sat back in amazement and watched as Grace, through an interpreter, talked to these men and women about what she did to enroll, what programs were available, and what requirements they’d need to be aware of.
Grace, Mary, Refugee Language Project, Amarillo College – separate pieces now joined together as a bridge that seemed unlikely just a few months ago. Who knew that it would be Grace, a refugee herself, who would be paving the way for new Afghans to get their foot in the door at a community college? This is the power of relationships. When we work together and connect people, resources and dreams, powerful things can happen. Grace’s passion and persistence will certainly take her places—of that we have no doubt. The real beauty, however, will be in the fact that she is holding the door open for others to follow behind her.