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  • Cheryl Behrent & Mariah Scheuermann

Simba Means Strength

Simba’s story tells her arduous journey fleeing from her country. At every step of the way, Simba persevered for her future, and owes her current successes to her strength and resilience.

Simba was born in what was once known as “the breadbasket of Africa.” The area had a strong agricultural economy, which enabled its accessible healthcare and progress in women’s rights. Simba lived in her family home, and family support and schooling were enforced country priorities, as all schools accepted people of all backgrounds. By the age of 25, Simba was a social worker, doing home visits and teaching others how to care for incontinent people with HIV at the end of their lives.

While Simba enjoyed her life into adulthood, political unrest began to disturb her country and family’s prosperity. Veterans who fought for the country’s liberation from centuries of British colonial rule decades earlier pressured the government to award them land that had already been redistributed with the intent of fairness. Because the land reform wasn’t mindfully carried out, veterans resorted to forcibly taking land from families who’d occupied it for 200 years.

Thousands losing farmland moved from the country or lost their lives fighting. Hearing farmers being attacked and arrested greatly distressed Simba’s community. Political unrest combined with the forces of natural disaster, as Simba’s family and surrounding native farmers suffered from drought. Now, even those with access to farmable land couldn’t rely on their crops to sustain themselves. Further, the US sanctions on imports due to the violence impacted the economy and made healthcare services and food expensive and inaccessible. Simba’s family worried they’d die from illness or starvation. Simba made up her mind: she had to leave.

Leaving was one of the hardest parts. It pained Simba to part with the community she had so many fond memories in, but she knew it would never again be the home of her childhood. Simba walked off roads to avoid soldiers, periodically crossing dangerous rivers. During a month of walking she was detained three times. When she wasn’t detained, men held her up, making her pay just to continue walking. She ran out of money, food, and hope. Every step was dangerous. She doesn’t know how she made it alive.

By the time she made it to the border in California, Simba been traveling for four months. The fatigue of discomfort and no place to call home was catching up to her. While exhausted and confused, Simba had an advantage that many of Sarah’s other residents didn’t have in their arrival to the country: fluency in English. She didn’t have a delay waiting for an interpreter because she could speak and write for herself.

The only phone number she could give the immigration officers was from someone she had met on her journey. She committed to go to North Dakota, hoping to stay with the woman she’d only met once who had family she’d never met.

Immigration officers let her pass after shackling her with an ankle monitoring bracelet, another requirement before continuing her journey. Changing buses three times, it took four days to get to North Dakota. She doesn’t know who paid the bus fares. Alone, exhausted, scared, Simba worried she had made it all this way only to get lost on the final leg of her journey. In North Dakota, Simba moved in with the family she first connected to, but it was difficult. Simba knew from the border agents that she needed to apply for asylum within five months, but the family never helped her get started. Even though she had made it to her destination, she wasn’t receiving the necessary resources to address the task of her case to stay or process the trauma she had gone through.

On one trip to Minnesota, Simba sought medical care for back pain from caring for kids and performing household duties. Simba went to a free clinic where a woman from her home country, also a social worker, said she knew the family and advised her not to return. The social worker sent Simba to another local group of Sisters to ask for a place to stay, where they recommended her to the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) and Advocates for Human Rights. Here she finally began the asylum process and treatment for trauma and pain.

After a year of waiting, Simba received permission to work and secured a job as a nursing assistant. She was happy to get back to helping her community like she did as a social worker in her home country, but her evening shifts clashed with the Sisters’ 5:00 p.m. curfew. Instead of giving up the position, Simba was referred by CVT to Sarah’s to accommodate her new schedule.

At Sarah’s, Simba can work evenings. With her own room, schedule, and food, she enjoys the privileges she hasn’t known for years. These freedoms are for the benefit of residents, as they respect everyone’s individual needs and encourage independence needed beyond Sarah’s. This flexibility is balanced with the love and support that Sarah’s provides.

In the fall of 2022, Sarah’s scholarship fund was able to pay for Simba’s nursing courses as she pursues the development of her career. While she had previously been burdened by juggling the financial costs of providing for those in her family still in Africa and her education, now she is able to focus on her studies. Her improved grades are proof of the benefits of the physical, emotional, and financial security that Sarah’s and our donors’ support provides.

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