“Abused orphan in African war-zone to 16-year-old, first-time student in U.S.”
Jophi was living in Congo, Africa when his mother disappeared. Orphaned at 3 years old, he was sent to live with his uncle, his aunt and five young cousins, who constantly reminded him that he didn't really belong. Although his cousins were sent to school, Jophi was kept at home where he had to work his uncle's farm. At 6 years old, Jophi had to feed and clean up after 100 pigs three times a day. He also speaks of herding cows, planting corn, driving a tractor...all before 11 years old. His bed was a mattress on the living room floor, which had to be removed every morning and stored in one of his cousin's bedrooms. He volunteered at the local UNICEF station for free meals -- he never had enough food at home. His only education was what his same-aged cousin taught him when she came home from school. His uncle took his bike that he worked so hard for because his cousins were jealous of it. He found hope in a local woman, who talked to him about Jesus.
There was also the war. Modern day pirates lived in the jungle that surrounded the village. About once a week, they would come into the village shooting their guns. People were forced to run from their homes, toward the bullets. If they didn't, a bomb would be thrown into their home. The goal, of course, was to rob the home. One night, Jophi was separated from his family while running from the bullets. He spent the entire night alone and scared, hiding behind a rock in the jungle, listening to bullets, waiting for daylight. He was ten.
When he was 11, "soldiers" with guns and machetes broke into their home, looking for his uncle (who already fled to Uganda). Jophi was beaten and watched while they beat and raped his aunt, raped his young cousin, stole all their property. That night, his aunt and all the kids grabbed anything they could and literally ran to safety to Uganda, where they tried to find his uncle. His aunt and older cousins were arrested, and Jophi had to lead is younger cousins in a quest to find his uncle. Eventually, they were taken care of by a refugee camp. They were not allowed in the camp, but had to live in the large dangerous Kampala City.
At 12, Jophi moved out of his uncle's very small, crowded and angry home and lived on his own. He found a job in Kampala City with a carpenter who paid him with food and rent for an apartment (where Jophi lived alone.) If he "didn't work, he didn't eat." So he often worked through the night. Again, no school. At 15, by some miracle, Jophi's uncle received papers to come to the U.S. Jophi had to go with them, even though he didn't want to. They arrived in Lakewood, Ohio, on December 23, 2014.
Life didn't get much better for Jophi. There was still a lot of fighting. His uncle put a lock on the refrigerator door, so Jophi couldn't eat on his own. He went to school for the first time ever, but he was illiterate in any language. He was sent to a school for children who had difficulty in regular high school, but this school was loud, undisciplined and dangerous. And offered no special services. His uncle wanted him to quit and get a job to help support the family. Jophi wanted to quit, get a job and move out. Or kill himself.
It was then that we learned of Jophi. After meeting with Jophi twice, we moved Jophi into our home on October 15, 2015. Although we are a white family, and probably the farthest from Jophi's culture, my husband is a retired Marine 1st Sgt. used to dealing with young men, I taught English as a second language for 10 years, our daughter is a teacher, our other daughter is a refugee case worker and speaks Swahili, and our 11-year-old son always wanted a brother.
Jophi was 16. He spoke very little English. He came with cockroach-infested suitcases filled with dirty donated clothes that were too big, too small, too old or age/sex inappropriate. He said that his uncle gave him what his cousins didn't want. He had no underwear, t-shirts or pajamas. He didn't know how to sleep in a real bed with real bedding. He never saw a dishwasher, washer and dryer, garbage disposal, bathroom fan, or cordless phone before. He didn't know how to work a computer, a microwave, a stove or a TV remote.
But he had his own room. And a real school. And a safe neighborhood. And all the food he could eat. And a little brother, two older sisters, two brother-in laws, a nephew, parents and even grandparents who love him. He is now a freshman in one of the best schools in the state with an administration, teachers and students who go above and beyond to help him. He is getting English classes. He can read and write (teaching him to read was one of the most rewarding things in my life.) He is on the soccer team (a fantastic player, even though he taught himself after seeing it on TV; and his first soccer ball was made from tinfoil and twine.) And he has tons of friends. He is very intelligent, very kind, very devoted, very hard worker and very determined to make something of himself -- and filled with faith. The first night, all he asked for was a bible -- even though he couldn't read it. He has gained 20 pounds. And his uncle and family? They now live in a bad neighborhood in Cleveland, struggling day to day to make ends meet. And every once in a while, the uncle asks Jophi for money. A true Cinderella story.
I asked Jophi if he ever thought his life would turn out this way. He said that, when he was living alone in Kampala City, God showed him in a dream that he was living in a nice home in a nice neighborhood, and was the only Congolese person around. So no, he wasn't surprised, But very, very grateful.