Micklina Peter Kenyi was 11 years old when the government of Sudan bombed her village, attempting to wipe out people deemed rebels. With shrapnel flying, she and her family ran for their lives, losing each other in the chaos. After three weeks in the woods, surviving on "wild berries and prayer," as Kenyi puts it, she made it to a refugee camp.
Today, her life is worlds away from the bloodshed in Sudan, where millions of civilians have been killed since the start of the civil war in 1983. Kenyi, 30, lives in Colorado with her husband and infant son, and has a shiny new degree from the University of Colorado. Now she's helping other lost girls get their diplomas as well.
Kenyi, who landed in Colorado in 2004, thanks to a U.S. government resettlement program, started her new life in America by working the late shift at Target. Things changed, she says, when Boulder residents encouraged her to go to school. Since then, more than a dozen Sudanese women have come to town, so Kenyi has teamed up with local teachers to make sure these women get educated, too, instead of winding up in low-paying gigs like housecleaning. Her Thinking Outside the Box Learning Center, an offshoot of a nonprofit she launched called the Community of Sudanese and American Women, connects the refugees with tutors who help them get their GEDs.
Kenyi says this is just the beginning of her efforts to help the women of her homeland. "There's a piece of my heart in the Sudan," she says. "Someday I'd like to return and open a school."