Fifth Place Photojournalism II – Picture Story/Series
Fifth Place Photojournalism II – Picture Story/Series
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
In the midst of civil war, mass murders, and famine, families all over the world are forced to leave their homeland every day. We had to leave. The rebels in Somalia were killing our people. Mnozas village was burned down. The camp in Kenya was too full. We had no choice, Abdulkadir said. Abdulkadir and Mnoza Muya are experiencing this reality. Refugees come to America all the time, but they often face numerous challenges adjusting to the differences in language and culture. This is the story of the Muya family striving to find normality in refuge.
The Muya family arrived to the United States in September of 2016. After 12 years of living with 350,000 other Somalian refugees in Kenya, the Muya's gained refugee status in America. They brought one outfit per person and a small bag full of valuables. Alice Bolanos, a volunteer with World Relief, brings them to the central bus hub in Durham, NC so they can learn the public transportation system. Alice is helping them get to a local church that has clothes for the whole family.
Alice Bolanos and Mnoza pack seven bags full of clothes for the family of eight. They left Kenya with one outfit per person. Alice is helping them get settled into their new apartment in Durham, NC. The family hasn't experienced a cold winter in over a decade. Finding the clothes to survive through it is crucial.
Mnoza was raised a farmer. She didn't go to school growing up in Somalia and, consequently, never learned the alphabet. In her weekly lesson, Mnoza learns the English alphabet with tutor Eugenia Wittick while breastfeeding her youngest child, Muhammad (also called Mudi).
Abdulkadir was raised in school. He knows some Italian and Arabic, but now has to learn English in order to get a job and survive in America. Eugenia Wittick is helping Abdulkadir learn English as well. I want to provide for my family. Im their father and Mnozas husband. That is my job, Abdulkadir said. He doesnt care what job he has, as long as he can bring in income for his family. Mastering English is the first step to get there.
The Muya family of eight spends their days inside their three-bedroom apartment. The first months of settling were relatively easy for the family. They were excited to be out of tents and in a house. "Yes, I miss home. We all miss home. But we need to be here," said Mnoza.
Abdulkadir waits for the bus with trash bags full of clothing for the family. Learning the bus schedule is an ongoing problem as he spends up to an hour trying to get a ride. He'll wait for over an hour and nothing will show up. "No bus. There is no bus. How do I work with no bus?" said Abdulkadir.
The family takes a school bus to Forest View Elementary School for a community refugee event. They sat around a table with dozens of other refugee families and talked about shared experiences. Even with the weight of their situation, they managed to laugh with these families and make jokes.
Omari is the eldest son at 19 years old. He hauled bags of rice for miles when he lived in Kenya. He would get to take home a portion of the food he handled. Now Omari starts his first job at a bicycle co-op in Durham. He wasnt able to communicate to his boss well. He wants me to know all English. I just got to America I cant know all English. Its not good, Omari said.
Omari and Hemadi, the second oldest son at 16, didnt have bikes back in Kenya. Now theyre expected to build one, essentially from scratch. Since the probably of them getting a license anytime in the near future is slim, a bicycle will be one of their only means of transportation.
The children in the Muya family befriend other refugees from Kenya at school. They found people who speak their language, eat their food, and listen to their music. Girls from another refugee family from Kenya ride to school with Ali, the third oldest son at 13 years old, and Hemadi. They always steal each others phone and make funny calls to other family and friends. The girls watch as Ali shows off his prank skills.
Mudi pulls on his mothers scarf while the family waits to meet with teachers in Forest View Elementary Schoo. Celeste Otieno joined the Muya's to help translate for them. Asimani, their second youngest son, has been struggling to obey rules in the classroom. The transition has been tough for him.
Hemadi, Ali and Omari spend their time together outside of their apartment. They use one tennis ball to kick around for soccer or throw at each other for dodge ball. A few other refugee families live in their community. Afternoons are usually full of the kids running around the grass and playing games.
Asimani, Fartune and Mudi eat their fish and rice dinner on the floor. After eating on the ground in Kenya for 12 years, the family rarely uses tables.
Fartune, 9 years old, holds tightly to a family portrait, with a painting brought over from Kenya in the background. The Muya family can't live off welfare for long. They will get cut off from most aid in December, unless they find income. Escaping a hostile country hasnt freed them from fear for the future. Many mysteries still exist, but more than anything, the family is wondering when they'll be able to go home.