My full name is Olf Allan Leyinda Mouyaka.
Many people ask why so many names and the answer is: where I was born in the Congo Brazzaville (Africa), when a child is born each parent gets to give him/her a name, and so they each pick a first and last name, then the child ends up having two first names and two last names.
I was born on May 28, 1993 in the Congo, but I grew up in a country called Gabon, which is situated directly next to the Congo. The reason for this is because there was a civil war in 1997 that forced my family and I along with hundreds of thousands of other families to run away from the Congo and eventually ended up in Gabon. I grew up with my mother and my three siblings in Gabon. I am the youngest of four. I have an older brother and two older sisters. This was not always the most pleasant place to be at but it was better then the war zone we were coming from.
As we tried to settle as refugees in a country that was not ours, we were considered and treated differently. Everyone knew we were not from there but my mother did everything she could to put us in school, keep food on our dinner table when we got one and clothes on our backs. My mother did everything from becoming a teacher, a farmer etc. just to keep us alive and well. So growing up, hard work in everything was key to making it out and eventually becoming a better person and having a better life.
One night, ten years later, my mother pulled me into her room, locked the door and told me the best news I have ever gotten in my entire life. She said: “Olf, Dieu est grand,” which is French for “God is grand or big!” She said that our refugee papers finally came through. God had answered our prayers. We were getting resettled to America.
So on September 28, 2009, my mother, my siblings and I made our way to America, a place that would keep us safe. We wouldn’t have to runaway from anyone anymore.
Going to sleep peacefully was a challenge, because I was in a country that was not home and it was not safe for my family. Education was always key, but my mother was not always able to afford to send me or my bother and sisters to school. And even when we went to school, it wasn’t easy to make friends because I was the different one. “You are not from here. Why should we play with you?” I heard that one many times.
My mother always told me that we were not supposed to be accepted in this country and that was something we could not change. But she also said that one way you can make a difference is by going to school and excel in everything you do. Don’t ever get in trouble and pray to God everyday so that one day your life can become a blessing to others. “That will help you live at peace with yourself and become a better person,” she said.
When my family got resettled in Lowell, the International Institute of Lowell, the agency that helped us settle here, found a job for me at Spindle City Corps with Community Teamwork. As a Corps member, we went around the city, raking leaves, cleaning canal walkways and doing maintenance at National Park sites.
The best part about this job was that I was not the only person who did not speak any English. Although it was difficult to communicate with others and find our way around, Spindle City Corps was the first group that accepted me for who I was and what I was able to do, rather than where I was from.
We worked in teams all summer, and my direct team of five became like a family. I learned to speak English with them and they never made fun of me for not being able to respond correctly to a question. That meant the world because, for once in my life, I was not being made fun of. I was accepted and becoming part of something.
Today, I am a junior at Merrimack College, studying International Business and French. In the fall of 2016, I will be going to Anger, France to study abroad. With the help of some of my Spindle City Corps supervisors, I got a job as Park ranger for the National Historical Park Service. I love the city of Lowell. It became home in 2009 when I got here and it will always be home for me.
After college I would like to find a permanent position as a park Ranger here in Lowell. Eventually, I would like to work for the Office of International Affairs with the National Park Service and maybe make it to the United Nations. That will be the ultimate goal. And then my mother could one day sit home, at peace with herself, knowing that I am okay and that she should not have to ever ask or need anything I cannot give to her.
With everything I have gone through and have gone through most of it, at a really young age, I truly believe that I became a man very quickly. Life to me is a gift from God. Each breath I take has a purpose, each step I take has a purpose. For those reasons, no matter how hard times get, I have a reason to keep my head up and keep moving forward. There were many times when my mother could have given up on us but she never did.
As I have worked on my English for the past five years, I discovered a quote from Mark Twain that I now take to heart: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
I was born for a reason. I was born during a war period for a reason. I was mistreated in Gabon for a reason. I wasn’t able to speak English when I first got here for a reason. I have yet to reach that day Mark Twain talks about, but what I know for sure is that from where I have come from, what I have gone through to where I am now that day is around the corner–and I cannot wait to see it.
Special thanks to Olf for contributing his story in his own words. Olf’s job at Community Teamwork Inc. was made possible by Summer Experiences in Greater Lowell (SEGL) and its generous supporters.