America is a land of immigrants and in 2010 I happened to become one. Within my first year in the US, it dawned on me that the immigrants residing here were indeed all optimists at heart. We believe that we can change our circumstances and change them for the better.
Most immigrants discover the hard way, that though they are well educated, their qualifications are most often not recognized in the United States. I obtained a public relations degree in Kenya but that sadly didn’t count.
In 2011, I enrolled for a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs at Kennesaw State University and became a volunteer with the Lutheran Refugee and Immigration Services of Georgia. During my time there, I became very engaged with the ‘Friends in Hope’ project which basically is monthly prison visits to detained immigrants.
I was also very involved with visiting newly resettled refugees regularly and became very passionate about it. I would visit a family or two and donate groceries, clothes and whatever I thought would be beneficial for a newly resettled family. I was passionate about helping the refugees as I knew that they were encountering many challenges resettling as most of them had never worked, having lived in camps all their life. That, placed with the language barrier, and misplaced expectations could overwhelm any individual.
In between attending college full time, and volunteering, I worked two jobs. I worked as a student assistant at Kennesaw State’s Education Abroad office and at a local factory in Kennesaw. I was always exhausted but was determined to work hard and accomplish my goals.
By January of 2013, I was a junior at Kennesaw State, and only had two semesters to graduation. I began to feel that there was more to just completing my degree and finding a good job. I wanted to volunteer more but with the demands of a full time job, the possibility of that began to seem bleak.
In April of 2013, while taking a leadership course on campus, we toured a Montessori classroom and I became fascinated by the Montessori Method, and started thinking about possibly opening my own Montessori school someday. I knew that with God’s help, it was possible.
Later I found out about International Rescue Committee’s micro entrepreneurship program for immigrant women. I enrolled but found out that the program was only geared towards home-based childcare businesses. Though I didn’t stay in the program I gained the necessary information to get started.
From then on, my goal was to start a Montessori School. I decided to start buying furniture and storing it and for one year, I didn’t buy clothes, go out to dinner or even have a social life. If I wasn’t in school, I was working or volunteering. I bought so much without even knowing when I would start. I also started taking training classes required by the State to open up a school. In August 2014, I located suitable premises, but I wasn’t the only one interested in the building and I was the least qualified by all means. All credit to the acquisition of the building goes to God alone. We had to submit proposals and show financial proficiency and somehow despite being the least qualified God made this possible for me.
After acquiring the building, I got an extra job to help facilitate the renovations as per the fire marshal’s standards. There were days I worked almost 24 hours and when I had any little spare time, I went into the building to help with the renovations. My goal had been to open in autumn of 2014 but due to major renovations that had to be done, the school finally opened in February 2015. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about furniture since I had more than enough in storage. Looking back, that year of sacrifice was the best decision I ever made because I wouldn’t have made it to both buy furniture and renovate the building.
It wasn’t easy opening a new school in the middle of the school year, however, I had faith that everything would work out. I had a great team of teachers behind me, and the Kennesaw community was really supportive of a Montessori School. Enrollment didn’t pick up at first and I still had to work two jobs. I would go to the school early in the morning before anyone got there, pray, clean up and get ready for the students and teachers. At 9am, I would leave for work. I am still working elsewhere but not as much as I used to.
The greatest blessing is that I have a great team of staff and I no longer have to go to the school every morning. Enrollment for the new school year has really picked up and some parents have already put their younger children on a waiting list. We have been privileged to award 4 scholarships for the new school year.