Young Pittsburgh Refugees Share Their Stories: Fartuna, Soniya & Lorraine

Aug 9, 2017

Some young refugees in Pittsburgh resettled in the city when they were infants and have lived here most of their lives. Others arrived earlier this year. 

As part of a five-part series sharing the stories of young refugees, Fartuna Magasa from Kenya, Soniya Kazimoto from Congo, and Lorraine Digbeu of Ivory Coast West Africa talk about the variety of life experiences that exist across Africa and how they differ from the United States. 

Fartuna Magasa, 17, came to the United States when she was young and doesn’t remember much about her native Kenya. She now lives in Lawrenceville.

“It’s a great neighborhood," she said. "There’s a lot of other refugee kids here so you have someone who’s been through your experience, someone to talk to.”

This year she’s going to be a senior at Barack Obama Academy of International Studies. “My favorite subject is math," she said. "A lot of people don’t like it because it’s complicated, but I love it. It’s really easy for me.”

Soniya Kazimoto, 11, from Congo, said her family had to travel to many different countries on their journey to the U.S., which began when she was 3 years old.

"They started killing people, like cutting their head off,” she said. “They’re evil, some people. They tried to kill my sister once, but we moved to America.”

She said there are lots of differences between Pittsburgh and Congo, where she used to shower outdoors and walk to school, rather than taking the bus. Now she lives in Crafton and attends South Hills Middle School.

Lorraine Digbeu, 18, came to Pittsburgh from Ivory Coast in 2016 because of conflict in her country.

Since resettling in Avalon, she said her family's experience has been positive and that they've been treated well. Many of her classmates at Northgate High School thought she came from France, because she speaks French, the national language of Ivory Coast. But some students made fun of her.

“I really don’t care about making fun of me, because I’m not feeling stupid. I think you are more stupid than I feel,” she said.

Digbeu said some students made assumptions about her living conditions when she was in Africa.

“For me, things are not different from where I was living,” she said. She said she tries to explain to students that she lived in a town, not in the Sahara, which is on the other side of the continent from Ivory Coast.

This year she will be a senior, so she’s spending the summer preparing for the SAT college entrance exam. She's interested in political science, and said she wants to go on to be either a lawyer or a diplomat.

“I need to achieve my goal,” she said, “so I need to study really hard.”