Yar’s move to America from the Kenyan refugee camp and placement in a foster home did not go smoothly. Instead, it was a harsh and difficult experience. You can read the previous installment to her story here: Finding A Place. However, an attentive and caring school teacher noticed Yar’s predicament and went into action on her behalf.
My new foster family’s concern for the well being of my brother and myself was readily apparent.
They took time to introduce my brother John, aka Matiop, and me to their friends, neighbors, and family as well as our teachers at school.
They regularly grilled us about our progress in school and noticed immediately when we arrived home looking glum.
Their children became our siblings; their pets became ours as well. I made friends and my teachers cared deeply about my success.
Without realizing it, I allowed doubt and fear to creep away.
Yet, as quickly as it slipped away, my questioning returned. In order to graduate from public high school in Massachusetts, students needed to pass a series of standardized tests.
I was making significant progress academically; however, because I entered the country having received limited schooling, my skills were far below the standard set by the state.
I was in danger of being denied a diploma.
I became frustrated and my foster family could see that I was starting to give up.
My hopes faded as my dreams for an American education seemed less and less of a reality.
One afternoon, my foster mother, Susan, entered my bedroom as I sat staring at a sea of math problems. “There is a solution,” she told me.
I could go to Cushing Academy, a private boarding school an hour from Winchester, where she had earned her high school diploma.
She was convinced that it would provide me with the best chance to graduate from high school, and she was so excited about the prospect she did not sense my immediate dismay.
And, like the typical teenager that I was not, I could not see why she thought this was a solution. I knew all about boarding schools, and I wanted no part, especially because it meant living without Matiop.
I relented to visiting the school for an interview, an experience that turned out to be far less intimidating than my last series of interviews in the refugee camp.
After my visit, my biggest reservation related to my age.
I was twenty going twenty-one, and the school was requiring me to repeat a year.
I understood that I would be the eldest member of my class—by nearly three years—and while I knew it was due to my circumstances, the fact still embarrassed me, particularly since I struggled so in school.
The head of school warned me about sharing this information with my fellow students.
When they asked, which they did frequently, I merely said, “I am old enough to be your granny.”
That kept them quiet.
Adjustment to boarding school life was manageable, particularly given all I had been through previously.
The first few months were a whirlwind, and my hard work appeared to be paying off. Teachers commented on my work ethic and my rapid progress, which carried over into the fall of my senior year.
I was well on my way to a high school diploma.
At the same time, I received news my mother was alive and I had younger sisters whom I never had met. That she had survived the earlier years of terror in Southern Sudan gave me hope that one day we would be reunited.
Her survival allowed me to be someone’s child rather than a Lost Girl.
Joy was abundant, but temporary.
A phone call from Africa came one hot, summer afternoon.
My mother had died from a snakebite.
The finality of the news hit me harder than I could have imagined.
The child in me, the girl who had not seen her mother since she was seven, felt more lost than ever.
With her death, would I let my dreams die?
I am telling Yar’s story in installments every other Tuesday. Please visit my Lost Girls page to read the previous installments.