Rasha Kareem and Rula Ali walk through Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Before they had even reached their teens, Rasha Kareem and Rula Ali had dodged bullets, witnessed murders, endured threats against their families and encountered bloody corpses in the streets, until finally they fled their homes in Baghdad — a place where your very name, your religion or association with certain people could get you executed.

There was at least one tender mercy: Rasha Akeem and Rula Ali found each other.


Once in a Syrian refugee camp. Once years later, by fate, providence or accident, they found each other 7,000 miles from home, in Salt Lake City.

Rasha had disappeared, and for eight years they never knew what had become of the other. Then one day, Rasha turned around in a crowded room and there she was: Rula.

Don’t I know you?

What were the odds?

One wound up here because this is where she ran out of gas. The other was sent here by the United Nations.

Rasha studies biochemistry and math at the University of Utah and serves as a peer tutor. Rula, who works as a translator, finished her studies at Salt Lake Community College and has transferred to the University of Utah. She lives with her parents, who struggle to find work and are desperate to start over in this country.

When Rasha and Rula finally stumbled into each other after all those years, Rula stammered, “What happened to you?” Rasha replied, “There’s a long story.”

And so it is…

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Full story originally published at Deseret News.


SALT LAKE CITY — One of the people recognized at this year’s Catholic Community Services Awards Dinner Thursday night was Pamela Mufuka, a college student with quite a story to tell.

She often helps with dinner preparation with her family, the Gieblers — Brian, Kimberly and 4-year-old Selah. They opened their hearts and home as foster parents to Mufuka in 2009.

She came to them after experiencing what no child should ever have to.

She was 7-years-old when civil war raged again in her country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was the second Congo War, which lasted from 1998 to 2003.

One night in 2001, the family heard gunshots and her uncle went to investigate.

“He came back inside with blood on him and then he told us we had to run,” she said.

They were safe for only a few days, then the soldiers came again.

“So we started running again. Then we ended up finding ourselves on the border of Congo and Zambia,” she explained.

Eventually, she, her sister, aunt and uncle made their way to a refugee camp in Zambia. She remembers crowded conditions, poor food and no school.

In 2009, she and her sister applied for refugee immigration and were accepted. They were on their way to America.

” I was really excited. It was like a dream come true,” she said.

But she had never heard of Utah.

“In the camp, we had only heard of California, New York, Washington,” she said.

Through the Catholic Community Services Refugee program, the Gieblers became foster parents to Mufuka and her sister.

“The fact that I couldn’t speak any English, it was hard to understand with the teachers and students,” Mufuka said.

She enrolled at Jordan High School and graduated in 2013. Her American dream continues to grow. She is the first recipient of a Boyer Foundation Scholarship at the University of Utah.

Compared to the sweltering, overcrowded camps, Mufuka describes walking the pathways at the U. as otherworldly. She finds chemistry class challenging, but the exciting part was discovering that she can do this.

And she’s as much a part of the group as if she had envisioned herself here all her life.

“You are kind of on your own here. You are responsible for your own work, studying hard to earn it. But I love it,” she said.

Mufuka describes this opportunity to attend college as precious, having missed so many years of school in the refugee camp.

“When I saw many things happening and people dying, and there wasn’t medicine, I decided that when I ended up going to a better place, I was going to study hard and go to medical school,” she said.

That is still her goal. The scholarship, the university and her foster family have all opened doors.

“Every time I look back, I always appreciate and am thankful for how lucky I am,” she said.

Her aunt and uncle also came to America as refugees and are living in Kentucky. The family is still trying to contact Mufuka’s mother, who left the Congo on a business trip to Angola in 2001 before the others fled to the refugee camp.


The original story can be found here: http://www.ksl.com/index.php?sid=32256595&nid=481