Pendeza Byaale was born in a refugee camp
in Tanzania, where her pregnant mother fled due to war and conflict in Congo. Orphaned at three, she and her four siblings were raised by an aunt and uncle, along with their five children. Life was harsh, and all the children shared in the work of surviving. Pendeza walked miles to collect water and spent long hours alone tending goats.
Due to the conditions in the camp, she was never
able to go to school.
When their situation worsened, Pendeza's uncle began the process of applying for resettlement as a refugee. In 2010, after years of waiting, the family arrived in Houston. Pendeza was 10 years old. "It was like being in a whole new world!" She arrived speaking only Swahili, which she could neither read nor write. She remembers struggling to feel comfortable in this new place and in a new language.
Pendeza was attracted to PAIR because she wanted help with homework, especially English. She credits her teachers and PAIR leaders and mentors with helping her "overcome many challenges." Today, Pendeza is president of the PAIR group at Wisdom High School and active in the school's theater program. She also sings in her church's choir
and is an alumna of the Pangea Network's Young Women's Leadership Challenge.
About to graduate from Wisdom, she plans to attend Houston Community College on the way to achieving her goal of becoming a doctor. Pendeza says, "Without PAIR, I don't think that the dreams I am planning for myself, like going to college, would have existed."
Purnima Siwa was born in a refugee camp in Nepal, where her family fled from persecution in Bhutan. She remembers that life was hard in the camp, where they lived in bamboo huts
that were easily damaged in
heavy rains and where they rationed food to have enough to last the month. It took the family 19 years to move through the resettlement process! They arrived in Houston in 2011.
She recalls the difficulties of those early days in Houston. She and her family were isolated because they knew no English and they knew nothing about their new home. But they persevered, and Purnima has now embraced her life in Houston.
Purnima will graduate from Westbury High School in May. She's served as a leader in PAIR's program there and in the school's organization of students in the health sciences. She
enjoys doing community service and is on the varsity honors debate team and the tennis team.
In past years, she volunteered in PAIR's summer program for middle school students: "because of what [PAIR's] done for me, I served as a mentor helping new students learn English, gain leadership skills, and adapt to their new home, just like I did."
Purnima says that "PAIR has been the most important part of my new life in America....Every single day that I go there I am inspired and thankful to PAIR for making me feel like I am a person." Purnima's plans for next year depend on the results of her scholarship applications. But eventually, she plans to work in a medical field - as a doctor
or a nurse.