“I Love This Place!”

24 July 2020

How a teenage refugee transformed trials into service

Spells, Belle, and a New Language

One of Stephanie Hunt’s fondest memories of her refugee student Abril Vale-Luzardo was Abril’s desire to learn English.

“[She would] read Harry Potter in Spanish [and] then read the same chapter in English. She would walk down the hall carrying both books in her hands as she walked. I told her she was like Belle in Beauty and the Beast,” says Mrs. Hunt, one of Abril’s first teachers. Reading each chapter in both languages helped Abril learn faster. “After we watched a few minutes of the movie so she could understand, she hugged me and said, ‘I love this place!’”

This is where Abril Vale-Luzardo found herself five years ago. She was starting middle school in a new country, hoping to master a language she was completely unfamiliar with.

In 2015, Abril and her family came to the United States seeking political asylum. In their home country, Abril’s parents couldn’t even afford basic needs like food, medicine, and diapers. Desperate for a better, more stable life, they came to the U.S.

After Abril left her home country, she often missed the relatives she left behind and weekend traditions like visiting her grandma. Because she didn’t know English, school was challenging for her, and it was hard to make friends. “People didn’t understand me, and it was hard to find people to relate to,” she says.

We Could Understand Each Other

Thanks to caring teachers like Mrs. Hunt, Abril began adapting and thriving in her new environment. Mrs. Hunt brought refugee students together during class and lunch times. Abril made friends with students from Vietnam and Russia. “Even though we couldn’t speak each other’s languages, we could understand each other. We were like a family,” she says.

Abril struggled a lot to learn English. “I felt ashamed and scared,” she says. But she continued working hard to improve her English by giving presentations in her language arts classes, watching movies with subtitles, and reading books in both English and Spanish. By 10th grade, she signed up for the difficult International Baccalaureate (IB) program and took classes like honors English, chemistry, and physics.

Abril is one of thousands of refugees who come to the U.S. each year and not only find ways to succeed in difficult circumstances, but also find meaningful ways to give back. At her school, Abril joined the Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS) program and completed 180 hours of community service. She served and made new friends around the community, including at the Ronald McDonald House, the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and the Police Explorer program. She also joined the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC), where her dreams of becoming a pilot and joining the military were born.

Latter-day Saint Charities Is Breaking Barriers

Latter-day Saint Charities continues to help refugees like Abril and her family to resettle. Since 2016, Latter-day Saint Charities has been supporting refugee resettlement efforts in more than 200 locations in the U.S. “We need to focus on more than just getting refugees into jobs but also on thinking about how to help refugees thrive in this new economy. Latter-day Saint Charities, with the help of Upwardly Global, is working to break down those barriers by training immigrants and refugees to adapt their education and skills into the U.S. workforce,” says Sydney Mogotsi, Latter-day Saint Charities senior program officer for Refugee and Immigrant Services.

A Focus on Her Future

For Abril, her refugee experience has been one of growth and hope with focus on her future. This past June, Abril graduated high school with a 3.8 GPA. She has been accepted to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and wants to go, if she can find enough money. “Her final goal has always been to obtain a university degree to become an integral citizen and give back to the country that opened doors to her,” says her mother. “We personally admire her very much for the way she has faced challenges as a 13-year-old girl who came to this country as an immigrant.”

Opportunities to Upskill

Abril’s parents, Carlos Ricardo Vale Zamora and Lesbia Nairbes Luzardo Hernandez, worked as a criminal judge and a professional musician in a prestigious orchestra. In the United States, they struggled to find meaningful and well-paying jobs. Abril’s mother worked in fast food and cleaned toilets, and her father worked in construction. With the help of members of their community, Abril’s parents found positions as a calling agent at CaptionCall and as a custodian at a performing arts school where they are happier, their skills are put to good use, and they can provide better for their family.

Refugees face tremendous challenges when resettling in a new country. Your acts of kindness and support to refugees in your local community can make a big difference.