“Here I Am…More!”: Dorcas’s Story

Back in my home country, in Western Africa, I earned a law degree and started a foundation providing legal aid, access to courts, and rehabilitation and reintegration for incarcerated women and children. I advocated tirelessly for reform of our country’s legal system, which was plagued by corruption and lack of due process. I helped more than 200 women get released on bail, and secured 35 acquittals.

I was a single mother of two children, helping other mothers. This work was my passion, my reason for getting up in the morning. But as my efforts started to get more press coverage and international attention, I was constantly monitored and received threats from the government. It was such a strange reality. On the other side of the world I was being celebrated, while my own country saw me as a danger.

This tension reached a tipping point when I received an award from the U.S. Department of State, recognizing me as an outstanding young international leader. It was an incredible honor.

And then the worst happened.

I was abducted by the government, held for three weeks, physically tortured, and then dropped onto a highway. I was not expected to survive this ordeal, but my mother, my children and I were able to flee to a neighboring country, and then to the U.S., where my sister lived.

I arrived in the U.S. with no suitcase, just the dress I had on. This dress still hangs in my closet. I applied for and was granted asylum and eventually received a work permit. During those first few months in the U.S., I couldn’t bring myself to discuss what had happened to me and I was scared to leave the house. It was for my children that I started to take steps to heal. I found a counselor to help me come to terms with what I had experienced, and acclimate to my new life in the U.S.

The dress Dorcas arrived in

Recognizing that I needed to be a positive role model for my children and earn a living to support them, I started looking for work.

I assumed that because I was educated outside of the U.S. that I wouldn’t be able to find meaningful, professional-level work. Through a staffing agency, I got a job in a factory. The management was impressed with me, and they trained me to drive a forklift. I appreciated the opportunities at this company, but I was working late nights, taking public transportation 90 minutes or more each day to get to a job that did not inspire the same passion I felt when I was working as an attorney. What’s more, I hardly saw my children. I felt like I was letting them down, and I knew that I had more to offer my new country.

My mother heard about Upwardly Global from a woman at her church. I started their job search program as soon as possible, and it was eye-opening to gain so much insight into the U.S. job search and how to successfully interview. My job coach, Tamar, worked with me to translate my legal experience to career pathways in the U.S. She made it clear that I could do more with my law degree and legal aid experience — even though I’d earned both on the other side of the ocean.

Our hard work with mock interviews, resume revisions, and networking events paid off: I was hired in an administrative role at a nonprofit health and human services organization. I work with people in need to connect them to resources. I felt like I had found an opportunity that reflected my passion — helping people. My mother also was hired as a care assistant at the organization

This job has changed so much for my family. The 9–5 schedule and manageable commute has uplifted us all. We are such a good team. My son helps make breakfast, and we eat together every morning. We love to go out and explore our new city. There was no time for any of this when I was working the night shift. There is room in my life again for small luxuries — like being able to wear jewelry to work, and get my nails done — that make me feel like myself again.

Before UpGlo, I thought that my professional life had ended and that I would never have the opportunity to truly be me again. Without the organization’s guidance, I probably would have settled for much less. But every time I met with my coach or participated in a networking session I believed I could be more, I could achieve more.

And now here I am…More! I’m continuing my life’s mission of advocating for and serving others. Recently, for the first time since I arrived here, I was able to wear my dress from home. I am me again, in a welcoming and safe community.

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Upwardly Global is a national nonprofit organization that works to eliminate employment barriers for skilled immigrants and refugees.