Born a refugee, working in a meat plant, she wants to be a nurse-midwife in Wichita | Commentary

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of guest columns by Wichita-area residents to tell their stories, in their words, spotlighting barriers that deter full participation in the life of the community. Funding for Unheard Voices has been provided by the American Press Institute through its Civic Discourse and Community Voices Fund.

I was born in a refugee camp in Lusaka City, Zambia, on Jan. 1, 2000.

My mum and my brothers had run from conflicts in the the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and went to Zambia to seek refuge.

My mum used to tell me stories about what happened to them while they were coming in from Congo to Zambia and what happened to them during the war.

She said they were in the house, all the family, just as some people entered the house, and they took my stepfather and started beating him. After that, they found some people who helped them find a bus to come to Zambia.

That was in 1997. While in Zambia in 2017, my mother got killed by thugs in Lusaka City.

A surprising call

Life in the camp is a very difficult life, because of money, and food, things like that.

When my mum was alive, I was going to school. But when she was killed, I stopped because of lack of financial support. I was in grade nine.

I pushed myself to start doing something. I was selling casava on the road, and sweet potatoes.

I would try to make some money, then I’d go back to school, then I’d go back and raise some money. That is how I used to live my life in Africa.

My mother applied for us to come to America before she passed away. After this, we waited close to six years before being resettled in the USA.

It was just like a miracle, we didn’t even expect it.

They called my brother and they asked who is your mum?

He said Monica Mponto Ilunga.

They said where is she?

He said my mum, she has already passed away.

They said OK, can you send us any document for your mum’s death?

He sent them the death certificate. Then they confirmed that this is true.

At that time, he has no money to pay the house rent, everything was crazy, and then he came back home and said everything is OK. They have called us, the immigration, America called us, we are going there.

They said, we can take your whole family at one time, but it will take you longer. After that, they started taking us one by one. That’s how I find myself alone here.

When I reached Texas, they said you are going to Wichita, Kansas.

I said I’d never heard of this state before. They said there are a lot of states here.

I have three brothers and one sister.

My brothers and my sister and my uncle, they are in one place. They are all in Philadelphia, but in different houses.

Born in a refugee camp, 24-year-old Tumba Kabengele came to Wichita from Zambia last year and now works in a meat-processing plant. She hopes to further her education to become a nurse-midwife.
Born in a refugee camp, 24-year-old Tumba Kabengele came to Wichita from Zambia last year and now works in a meat-processing plant. She hopes to further her education to become a nurse-midwife.

Finding the road to education

Wichita has been very nice to me. They helped me with finding new people. It’s just nice, very secure.

I stayed here alone and I didn’t find it difficult because there is good security. I’m living here and know that any problem, I just call 911.

I’m so happy to be here.

I came here on June 2, 2023.

I found myself going to Creekstone Farms to work, cutting meat. But Creekstone is very far. We’d take like one hour on the road to reach there.

There was no way I could go to school, because we had to wake up around 03 (3 a.m.), the buses start going around 04 (4 a.m.) and then you come back around 18 (6 p.m.).

That was my first job in America.

My dream is to be a nurse, I would love to do like a midwife, that is what I would love. If I didn’t do that, I would like to do nursing assistant.

Some of my church members helped me to find another job, because I told them I need to go back to school; if I could find any job that can suit me going to my job and then going to school, it would be so good for me.

So they told me, OK, when Dold Foods (in Wichita) opens they would try to do so. And then I was lucky, they did so and then they called me there and interviewed me, and then they hired me.

I chose the night shift so I could go to school in the evening and in the afternoon.

I work 22 (10 p.m.) to 06 (6 a.m.). I have somebody who picks me up. We work together and she lives nearby.

I’m trying to find a school now. I need to get a GED because I didn’t finish (high school), so I need to get a diploma, before I can go to nursing school.

The thing I would like is for somebody to show me the road — this is the way you can do this — because I don’t know where I can go. I will also need a laptop for my education.

This is what I need, help finding a school. I just need that support.

I just want to go to school. This is my wish.