February Learner Spotlight: Terza Chol

Meet Terza Chol!  Terza and her family are originally from Sudan/South Sudan, and her mother moved their family to Egypt when she was only 9 to escape the conflict in their home land.  Terza’s Father and two of her sisters did not come to Egypt with them, so her Mother had to support Terza, her 2 sisters and 2 bothers in Egypt on her own.  Her Mother worked very hard – regularly putting in 12 hour shifts in large part so she could pay to send the kids to school – even for refugees an education is not free in Egypt.  Terza mentioned that even when the kids were able to afford to go to school, the education was not great.  Terza “had a lot of dreams growing up, but no opportunities to pursue those dreams.”  Without a parent around there was no one to encourage success in education, and because of the cost she was only able to attend intermittently.  For the next five years life continued much the same – her mother continued to apply to the UN for resettlement, the kids went to school off and on, and Terza had her own son.  At that point Terza’s mother went back to Sudan to visit the two daughters she had left behind, and was unable to return to Egypt.  That left Terza in charge of working to pay for her siblings to attend school, as well as caring for her own infant son. 

She worked in housekeeping, they lived in refugee housing in Cairo, and every chance she got she went to the UN to apply for refugee assistance.  Finally in 2015, Terza and her siblings were approved to start the resettlement process.  They went through 6 rounds of interviews, and every time they got close to resettlement things would get delayed.  Finally they were told that they would get a call sometime in the next 2-3 months – they HAD to answer that phone call, or they would be passed up.  Terza anxiously kept her phone on her until that call came.  When the call finally did come, she was told that she and her sisters were approved for resettlement – but her brother had turned 18 during this time, which changed his status. He would require further background checks.  They could either let Terza, her sisters and her sons – she now had 3 – go ahead and be settled in America while her bother would stay behind, OR they could wait for him.  Terza explained that Egypt was a very dangerous place for Sudanese men at the time – she didn’t want to leave her brother behind because she feared for his safety.  As a family they decided to wait – 3 more months went by, conditions continued to get more dangerous for their family, and no progress was made on her brothers background checks.  Her brother sat Terza down and encouraged her to go on without him.  He wanted his nephews to be safe and be assured of an education.  He told her he would follow as soon as possible.  In July of 2017 Terza, her three sons, her sister Maggie and her sister Nya boarded a plane to New York City.  From New York they flew to Chicago, and then on to Appleton.  All six of them were moved into a two bedroom apartment here, and they started over.  Just one month later – August of 2017, they received a call that their brother was not going to be joining them – he had been murdered in Cairo.

Terza was sick with guilt – she said during that time she spent a lot of time crying.  She was only able to pull through because she had to be strong for her boys.  Those early days here were hard – everyone missed her brother, they all knew very little English, it was hard to get to the grocery store and back on the bus, it was colder than anything they had ever experienced, and they had very little other than mattresses on the floor.  She said even though it was hard, every day she told herself she “just had to make things a little bit better for the kids.”  They were in school – and for that she was extremely happy and felt blessed.  She felt grateful that every morning the bus driver would smile at her and say “Good Morning.”  Unlike in Egypt, people here were generally nice to her, and tried to help them.  She started working in housekeeping at a hotel, got signed up for English classes at Fox Valley tech, and received a tutor here at Winnebago Area Literacy Council.  She worked hard to get her drivers license, saved up to buy a car, and moved into another apartment.  She got a new job in housekeeping at Aurora Medical Center, and her manager there encouraged and helped her to apply to the Habitat for Humanity program to get a house for herself and the boys.  She was approved!  Terza and her family will be moving into their new house next year.  During this time she also passed her fifth year in the United States, and she took her citizenship exam – and passed!  She is now working on the paperwork to get her sons citizenship.  She said she always wanted to work hard for her boys – but the encouragement she has received along the way made it easier.  Her tutors here believed in her, and told her if she worked hard she would succeed – and they were right.  Terza cannot wait to move into their new house, and recently found out that her new neighbor will actually be a friend of hers – they lived next to each other when they originally moved here, and used to cook for each other frequently.  It’s been a long road, but thanks to her hard work and perseverance Terza and her boys have a bright future ahead of them.

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