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The words were chilling. “We know where you are. You cannot run away from us. We will find you.” It was not the first time Juliet and Andrew had feared for their lives, and it would not be the last.
Living in the Kenyan town of Meru, the young family had worked hard to build a stable, happy life. Juliet was a physician at a county hospital, and Andrew worked as an electrical engineer with an oil drilling company; later starting his own business selling electrical supplies and services.
“We had everything we needed,” Andrew said. “We had a house, two cars, plenty of food.” Life was good, and the future looked bright.
Everything changed the night a group of men forced their way into the family’s home, threatening Juliet and Andrew, and frightening their 5-year-old son. Juliet – who was pregnant with the couple’s daughter – was pushed to the floor.
“They wanted money,” Andrew said. “They called it ‘taxes,’ but it was much more than that. They wanted to scare us ... they wanted us to be afraid of what they might do next.”
The men succeeded. That night, the ambitious journey that had brought stability and success came to a terrifying halt.
Andrew’s business had been doing well; serving Nairobi and many other cities. But when the company began working with government agencies, things started to change. They had more business, but that business came at a price.
“The government was corrupt,” Andrew said. “They would manipulate the numbers; they would inflate bids. One time, I was notified that I had won a bid I knew nothing about. If someone knew too much, they would give them money to stay quiet.”
Sometimes, even that wasn’t enough. Andrew said that when the government was audited, “someone had to be sacrificed.” And if they thought you were going to expose the corruption, you were at risk.
“People were being killed,” Andrew said. “There would be a chain of people, and the middle guy would be killed. But no one would ever know where they were in that line. One day, when I had just come home from doing business in China, I was abducted, along with the driver of the car.” The driver was killed.
Then the men broke into their house. The family tried to flee – moving to Juliet’s mother’s house in another town – but the men kept following them; sending messages and calling.
“We changed phone lines, but they would still track us down,” Juliet said. “We didn’t know where to go. We knew we needed to leave the country … to save our lives … to save our family. I didn’t know what would happen to us, or to my career, but our safety was the most important thing.”
Andrew got his visa first, in 2015, and came to the United States; staying with a friend in the Midwest. For a while, fear kept him from sharing what was really going on in his home country, and that his wife and children were in grave danger.
When he relocated to the Seattle area, Andrew found a job as a caregiver; working 24-hour shifts, seven days a week. He lived out of a suitcase and earned $100 for each overnight shift.
Meanwhile, Juliet started getting anonymous messages. They said they were looking for Andrew, and they threatened her. And they threatened their two children. The couple’s baby was only six weeks old, and Juliet began to worry whether she would ever see her husband again.
Several months later, Juliet and her young son and daughter were able to join Andrew in the United States; crowding into a small room they rented for $900 a month. They were safe, and they were together. But they were still desperate, in many ways.
They remembered everything they had back home in Meru; rewarding careers, the house and the cars. Andrew talks about how they would be so hungry during those dark days; remembering all of the food they used to throw away.
They were lost, and scared. That’s when they found Hopelink. Juliet was amazed at how quickly the wheels started turning once they called the Kirkland center.
“They were so prompt!” Juliet said. “They gave us an appointment on the very same day. We went into the Kirkland center, and we shared our story. And they gave us food … they gave us food during our very first visit. And they offered to help with housing.
“We were so surprised that people were so kind and helpful. That day, we found so much hope.”
The couple said they knew that if they made the right connections and could get jobs, they would be able to make it on their own. And when they began meeting with their employment specialist, “things moved really fast,” Andrew said.
“She started working on our resumes immediately,” he said. “I had found some people online to help with my resume and to help me find a job ... and I even worked with a mentor. But (Hopelink Employment Specialist) Rhonda offered even more support. Her assistance was more specific and more complex.
“I remember thinking, ‘if I were an employer, that’s what I would look for.’ I had applied for so many jobs with my other resume, and I would never get an interview … and then I worked with Rhonda. She polished my resume, and she gave me interviewing tips. And when I was a finalist with an electrical installation business, she even told me the salary range I should ask for.”
Andrew got the job, and at the salary he requested. Today, he is a project engineer for the company; a position very similar to the one he held in Kenya.
Juliet is poised to take her medical board exams, and – with a passion for obstetrics and gynecology – is looking forward to securing her residency.
The couple’s son and daughter are now 9 and 3, and adapting well to their new life. For the family, the relief of knowing they are safe helps ease the pain of missing friends and loved ones back home, but the change hasn’t come easily.
It was never the couple’s plan to leave the security and promise of life in Meru; starting over isn’t something you think about when you are safe and life is going well. But when fear for their lives shattered all they had built – and their peace of mind – everything changed.
In some ways, the family has come full circle; from a stable life with a bright future in Kenya, to stability and a path toward success in their new home. In between, they lost everything, and they found Hopelink.
Juliet says the guidance and support they received at Hopelink helped the family get back on track toward their dreams. But equally important was the sense of hope they found in everyone who helped them on their journey.
“We have met so many good people, and we are so thankful,” Juliet said. Everyone we have worked with has given us hope … hope that we can do this, and that we will be OK. Believing that something good is going to happen to you ... sometimes that’s all you need. We found that at Hopelink.”