It’s been almost 30 years since Manjay fled civil conflict in Liberia with her four children, ages three to nine, and walked to the Ivory Coast. In 2005, the family walked off the airplane into a new life in Knoxville.
“I didn’t know anybody,” she says.
She didn’t speak English. Her children had never been to school—”they didn’t know math or their ABCs,”—she says. “In my country, you have to pay money first.” As a single mom, she had to support her family alone.
In other words, nothing was easy.
Today Manjay is a U.S. citizen, an employee, a homeowner and three of her four children are in college.
Manjay was determined. Her first job was at McDonalds, but she arranged her schedule to ensure she could attend English classes three times a week, navigating the bus system to get her there and back. She learned about money. She learned how to write.
She then started a citizenship class, and after one year took the test. She failed. So she attended the class another year and tried again. This time she passed, and she and her children, now ages 17-23, are U.S. citizens.
Manjay credits the church that co-sponsored the family, Erin Presbyterian, with helping support them through the process. The church assisted with rent and transported the family to appointments. Each year they took the children back-to-school shopping. One of the members, a local attorney, provided Manjay part-time employment cleaning his office.
And in the most recent milestone of their integration journey, the family was approved for a Habitat for Humanity house, which they moved into last month. These days, Manjay continues to work and has watched her children grow up into thriving young adults. Two are attending the University of Tennessee, one is at Pellissippi State Technical Community College and the youngest is a high school senior.
“They buy food, I feel good,” she says. “I am happy here. My children got a better life.”