CULTURAL BACKGROUND: Meet Providence Isabayo

This is the second of a series of stories about KCPS students who are recently resettled refugees in Kansas City. We believe that one of the best ways to make our partners and other readers understand the wonderful work we do is to share the stories of the young men and women that our department serves. For this month, we have chosen to share the story of Providence Isabayo, the daughter of Congolese parents who was born and raised in a refugee camp in Rwanda, and who, along with her family, was recently resettled in Kansas City in 2015.


When we interviewed Providence Isabayo at East High School on Jan. 23, she was in the medical scrubs that she wears to her job as a certified nursing assistant in a hospital downtown. Born in Rwanda, Providence identifies herself as Congolese because her parents were born in Congo. She is highly regarded by her teachers and counselors at East High School, where she is presently a senior. Clearheaded about her goals, she has a step-by-step plan for her future: to graduate high school; enroll in community college (because it’s the cheaper option); and finally, earn a BS in Nursing from a four-year college.

Having just moved to the US about two years ago, Providence has had to master her schoolwork while also learning the English language. On top of that, she’s had to work hard to understand a culture that is vastly different from the one she’s known all her life. However, despite all of these challenges, Providence says that she is very grateful to be in the US; she says that she is very happy to be in a country that affords her the opportunity to reach her potential. She points out that, unlike Rwanda where school was expensive and even college graduates found it hard to get decent jobs, she believes that in the US, she’ll be able to not only get a great education, but also land a good job thereafter. “The refugee camps in Rwanda were overpopulated, and there were no jobs” says Providence. She adds, “I am happy to be here because, even now, I already have a good job.” However, despite Providence’s enthusiastic embrace of life in the US, she says that she still misses the friends and family she left in Rwanda, and she makes sure to communicate with them regularly over the phone.

Providence now communicates quite effectively in English, even though she could not speak the language at all when she first migrated to the US. She has learned to succeed in a society that she knew nothing about until two years ago, managing to get herself ready for graduation on time and developing meaningful friendships along the way. She attributes her progress in learning the English language to her teachers, her interest in books, and regular communications with the friends that she has made in school. However, she points out that she is still adjusting to having to deal with the diverse cultures in the US; she says that she is still working on understanding the cultures of all of her high school friends.