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  • Cheryl Behrent & Mariah Scheuermann

Nzuri's Zeal

This story centers a Sarah’s resident who we will call Nzuri, a Swahili word meaning “goodness.” This seems an appropriate name considering the hardships she has endured and all of the goodness that has come from helping her find a new life.

Nzuri was born in an African village. Poverty shaped her childhood as her parents struggled to provide the necessities for survival for Nzuri and her siblings. “We had nothing,” recalls Nzuri. “We had no house. We constructed sleeping places from thatch and bamboo under bushes.” She described how her and the other children had little they could call their own: no clothing, no shoes, no food. Nzuri would not own a pair of shoes until she was 16.

But the most challenging of hardships in her childhood sprang from food insecurity. Not out of a lack of effort or love, but rather lack of resources and opportunities, her parents could not afford to buy food. They sacrificed what they did have to prioritize their children’s health to the detriment of their own. When she was only 15, Nzuri found her parents dead as a result of their malnourishment. She explains, “My parents passed away because of poverty.”

The untimely loss of her parents spurred Nzuri into action. Even at her young age, she became determined to escape her home country and the same fate as her parents. With the help of her step brother, Nzuri scraped together every penny she had, borrowing from others in her village and selling the little that she owned. She only saved and planned far enough ahead to get on a plane and fly to the U.S. When the day finally came to depart, Nzuri was split between the anxiety of leaving her only family and community behind, and the hope for her future ahead.

Nzuri arrived in the U.S., hungry and afraid. Any hope or excitement of starting over was dashed by her lack of prospects. With no people to help or a place to stay, people took advantage of her. Physically and psychologically confined, Nzuri spent many months thinking she escaped death in Africa only to die here.

With an abrupt change of luck, a local agency found Nzuri a way out, beginning her case to stay in the U.S. and referring her to live at Sarah’s. For the first time, she was accepted into a community that was able to guarantee her safety and comfort. At Sarah’s, safety means sleeping without worry of attack, eating healthily without worry of shortage, and working with trustworthy staff who treat residents with dignity. Nzuri is able to sum up poignantly how Sarah’s altered her life’s course: “I was saved.”

Having her basic needs met, Nzuri was ready to start working towards the ultimate goal residents are tasked with: leaving Sarah’s with the confidence and resources to sustain themselves. One of the biggest steps in this direction is securing a personal source of income. Unfortunately, the typical wait to receive a work permit in the U.S. is at least one year. Once receiving authorization, however, Nzuri wasted no time in starting her full-time job as a cleaner.

Nzuri has laid down the foundation for a sustainable future in the U.S. through Sarah’s and her job, but she still has responsibilities tied to Africa. Like many of the residents of Sarah’s, Nzuri still has children in her home country, with the hopes of one day being able to bring them to the United States. Nzuri reports that poverty and other safety concerns in her country have not improved. Plainly, she explains: “I do not want them to be there.” Nzuri is their only help. She sends every extra penny she can spare for food and a room she rents for them.

Nzuri recently celebrated the success of proving her own case and getting her green card. While bureaucratic processes in her home country drag out each of her children’s cases, Nzuri continues to persevere through the setbacks as she works and saves money. Through the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, she continued her full-time essential nursing home job, contributing $300 per month to the CSJs to support Sarah’s. This contribution serves to prepare residents for life and independence outside of Sarah’s and is calculated based on a reasonable percentage of a resident’s wages. Another roadblock many residents face, the lowest private rate housing costs more than the monthly income of a lower wage worker. The agency that referred her to Sarah’s will help her find family housing she can afford when the time comes.

At move-in, each resident signs an agreement including to move on within one-and-a-half years. This agreement may be extended if a resident’s goal work continues with good effort and she remains a supportive community member. With so many variables out of an individual’s control, such as the ones Nzuri’s story details, a typical length of stay at Sarah’s is three years.

When Nzuri’s time comes to depart and start a new chapter of life with her family in the U.S., Sarah’s community will support her through the bittersweet transition. As reflected in our motto, “Sarah’s will always be your home.” Sarah’s will always hold a special place in her heart, and Sarah’s is just as unlikely to forget Nzuri and her grace.

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