News & Blog: Learner Stories


Chad Patton, Director of Customized Workplace English

Banza Mukalay grew up in Congo, the second largest country in Africa. After attending school for 12 years, he graduated Banzaas a mechanic in 1996. Banza got married after high school and a year later, two major things happened: he and his wife became pregnant with a girl, and a war began.

Banza and his wife escaped the war while his wife was pregnant and hid in a neighboring village. Once the war was over and his home town of Kalemie went through a regime change, Banza’s family moved back home. The peace did not last long, and a new war began in 1998. It was at that point that Banza and his mother, wife, child, brothers, and sisters, fled across Lake Tanganyika into Tanzania.

On November 6, 1998 Banza and his family became refugees and were sent to live in the refugee camp. He would live there for 15 years, and three of his four children would be born in the refugee camp. During that time, he worked as a security guard for World Vision, a social worker for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and was ordained as a pastor by the United Methodist Church. Banza led a church in the refugee camp for two years before finally gaining access to the United States.

Banza says about his life in the United States, “I want to contribute something to this country. God gave me a dream. What I am doing now is just a path, but I need to work hard if I want to advance that dream.”

Banza came to the Literacy Center because of a chance meeting on a plane with Jen Schottke of Associated Builders and Contractors (and a close partner of the Literacy Center). He said he had a congregation of Central Africans who were interested in learning Construction ESL at Grand Rapids Community College. Banza successfully completed the program and applied for a job at Kerkstra Precast. Kerkstra gave him an offer he could not refuse: he would work 3 days per week leaving him 2 days to continue pastoring refugees at Cornerstone Church.

While Banza began learning English in the refugee camp, he said the Literacy Center was different because it pushed him to achieve the dream he had in his mind. He engaged more with the English content: “The Literacy Center not only teaches English, but skills too… Literacy Center is a better place to be.”

When asked how he wanted to be remembered, Banza answered, “I want people to know me as a passionate person. I want people to know me as a helper for everybody… I also need help from people. I want people to know me as a learner. I am still learning. My heart has a desire for community. I love so much to work for God… I want people to know I am a sacrifice for the community. The community decides how to use me.”

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