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What do you hope for?

Story by Heartland Alliance September 2nd, 2014


If you passed him on the street, you’d never know how far he’d come – or how much he’d overcome – to be here. Thoughtful and soft-spoken, Chenge is a survivor of torture at the hands of Zimbabwe’s oppressive dictatorship. After calling attention to the violence occurring around him, Chenge, along with thousands of his countrymen, found himself persecuted and in danger. He first fled to South Africa, but knew he had to find somewhere safer – somewhere he could make a life for himself and finish his schooling. But how to get there?

a life in limbo

It was through his small marketing business in South Africa that Chenge finally found the opportunity he needed. A young student he worked with had heard of someone who might be able to help. Chenge got the number to Heartland Alliance in Chicago and, once he was able to flee South Africa, he knew who to call.

“They helped me file for asylum – to stabilize my life and come to Chicago,” says Chenge. “Most of all, though, they were not only dedicated to my cause, but to my aspirations. That’s important when your life is in limbo.”

Finally on firm ground, Chenge wasted no time building on the opportunity offered to him. While he awaited news on whether his visa had been approved, he worked towards a bachelor’s degree. When the good news came, though, it was bittersweet. He had been granted a visa to stay in America, but with no job and no support system, Chenge realized he would need help settling here. Heartland Alliance’s immigration attorneys, who had walked him through the processes of obtaining asylum and a visa, knew just who could help and picked up the phone.

dreams in reach

“That’s when our staff got the call,” says Audrey Lumley-Sapanski, Associate Director of Heartland Alliance’s refugee and immigrant community services. “Once individuals are granted asylum here, we are able to help with the much needed task of finding a job and integrating into American life.”

Audrey’s team got to work, focusing on helping him secure employment as a first step. They placed him at a hotel on Michigan Avenue as a server’s assistant, where he quickly worked his way up to a front desk clerk.

“I’m someone who never turns down an opportunity to prove myself,” says Chenge. “I work hard, I pay the bills. One day I hope to restart the business I had in Zimbabwe.”
For the first time, Chenge’s dreams are in reach. He’s completing a post-graduate certificate as he awaits the start of the start of his MBA at the University of Chicago.

“I feel secure,” he says with a smile. “I’m very thankful to Heartland [Alliance for this opportunity]. I had no family to fall back on here. They gave me a chance to restart my life.”
Footnote: Photography by Shane Welch, Story by Melissa Spear
Chicago, IL, United States
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