This December Lutheran Services of Georgia staff members watched in eager anticipation as Monica Sheriff became a citizen of the United States. On what was one of the most important days of Monica’s life, her friends at LSG felt the magnitude as well. When Monica first arrived to the United States from Liberia, it was LSG that resettled her, and five years later assisted her through the process of citizenship. Though Monica suffered unimaginable hardships in her life, including torture that left her completely blind, her resolve and tenacity to succeed has helped her thrive as an American.
Monica's Escape from Liberia
When civil war broke in Liberia in nineties, Monica was one of millions of West Africans who were displaced. Many Liberians watched their families murdered, their homes destroyed and their communities wiped-out at the hands of warring rebel factions.
In a moment, Monica’s life as she knew it was shattered. One day while working in her family’s store, two men barged in demanding money. Her husband emptied the cash register, giving the intruders every bit of money in the store, but it wasn’t enough. The men shot and killed him on the spot.
The men forced Monica, her daughter and granddaughters to travel to their base. Knowing they were in grave danger, Monica and the girls attempted to escape through the African bush, but they were discovered. As punishment, they spent the next two weeks lying on their backs on the ground, forced to look directly at the sun for hours a day. When a group from an opposing faction raided her capturer’s base two week later, Monica and her family used the chance to escape. They walked for weeks looking for a village – Monica’s eyes watered and her sight began to fade.
When they finally reached a nearby village, they received help and were sent to a refugee camp in Sierra Leone. Monica and her granddaughters lived in the camp for six years before they were granted entry into the United States.
When she received the news that she’d be sent to America, Monica was no longer fearful and she was full of hope for the future. There was no life for her in Africa anymore.
“While I was in the camp, they asked us to go back to Liberia because there was no war anymore,” says Monica. “As for me, I couldn’t go back. Imagine what they would do to me. They get me blind and my house was burned down. Even in freedom in Sierra Leone where we were residing, they raped the smallest girl. So I didn’t feel safe to go back to Liberia or stay in Sierra Leone,” said Monica.
Monica's New Life Begins
Every refugee faces difficulty rebuilding their life in a new country, but as a blind woman, Monica had additional challenges.
From the moment she stepped off the plane in Atlanta, Lutheran Services of Georgia was there to help her adjust to life in a new country. LSG arranged housing for Monica and her two granddaughters, helped them navigate paperwork and connected them to resources available.
Monica also had several volunteers from LSG’s First Friends program, which recruits volunteers to provide support and friendship for refugees as they adjust to live in Georgia.
First Friends volunteers, Sharon and Paul and then Beth were matched with Monica. Sharon and Paul visited Monica and assisted her with reading her mail during her first year in the U.S. Then Beth helped Monica get involved with therapeutic and practical activities. Beth took Monica to pottery classes where she made pots and bowls and helped her create a garden, growing greens, carrots, cucumbers and other vegetables for her to eat.
In addition to the typical cultural orientations that refugees receive, LSG set Monica up with classes at the Center for the Visually Impaired, where she learned Braille and took classes on mobility and learned how to be more independent.
“In Africa, when you are blind people keep away from you and you hardly get any help. In America, everyone likes you. They come around you and you get assistance. You feel like any other person who is not blind. They appreciate you,” says Monica. “In Africa, if you have a disability, it’s almost like you’re dead. In America, I feel alive. There are opportunities for me.”
Monica 's Dream of Citizenship Becomes Reality
Monica was determined to get her United States citizenship, and LSG was there to help.
Lutheran Services of Georgia arranged for braille and audio materials to help Monica study her citizenship. Volunteers worked with Monica and until she knew the material backwards and forward. Our immigration services program attorneys helped her file her naturalization application and were with her during the interview.
When it came time for her exam, though she knew the material, Monica said she was very worried.
“I was told that I would need to write and I didn’t know how I would do it, but I did it. The person who interviewed me was surprised how well I did. She said she was very impressed,” says Monica. “It’s important to be a citizen where you live. I love America and I love Lutheran Services that brought me here and helped me. They’ve been so nice and kind to me. I’m happy that I’m a citizen today.”
Though getting her citizenship was a big goal in Monica’s life, she has many wishes and goals for the future. She believes in making the most of her time. Her next goal is to use the skills that she learned at CVI to find a job. She says that all refugees coming to the United States should work to improve their position in life, “If you are in school, learn something more. If you have a career, you can add to that,” says Monica.
Lutheran Services of Georgia offers services in both refugee resettlement and immigration services. Helping those escaping war-torn countries from the moment they arrive in the United States and aiding them in reaching their goal of U.S. citizenship.
LSG employees and volunteers had the pleasure walking alongside Monica throughout her transition from refugee to citizen.