Exode Sungura hopes that by sharing his story, he can encourage, motivate, or change others. “Refugees are people, ordinary people,” he says. He especially considers himself a role model for his three younger siblings. “I’m not the only one in my family who has big dreams,” the 20-year-old explains. “I do something, I know it will affect them.”
He and his family came to Louisville in March of 2016. They fled their home country, Democratic Republic of the Congo, when Exode was six years old. They lived in Tanzania and then Kenya, where Exode was able to go to school. He and his family speak multiple languages: he speaks English, Swahili, and his mother tongue Kibembe. Some of his family members speak French and Kikuyu.
“I had no idea in America there is something called GPA,” he says. “Thank God my counselor understood everything. She really helped me.” When they arrived in Louisville, Exode started the 11th grade but he was at risk of having to repeat it if he couldn’t improve his GPA. Because he and his family could not obtain all of his transcripts from Kenya, some of his previous educational accomplishments were not recognized in the US and he entered 11th grade with a 2.5 GPA. “I had no idea what to do,” he says. He soon connected with his school counselor for guidance and, later, a volunteer tutor through KRM.
“I just want to finish high school, but I cannot force life,” Exode explains. “Every day when I wake up, I have a chance to do good. I only believe in success, despite the hardship.” By the end of his junior year, he achieved a 3.6 GPA.
While in school and working to improve his GPA, he also had to help support his family by working after school at Yang Kee Noodle, a KRM employer partner. He slept about three hours each night. “To me, it was not that bad,” he explains. “In order for you to get success, you have some things you have to do.” Both of his parents secured employment as well, and Exode later transitioned to working weekends at Highland Coffee.
When he first came to the United States, Exode dreamt of becoming a pilot. “I’m a very ambitious guy,” he says. After researching his options and receiving guidance from family, school, and mentors, Exode decided to focus on becoming a mechanical engineer. He met with Steve Rungwerth, a retired GE engineer and dedicated KRM volunteer, to discuss his plans and how he could achieve them.
“Every day when I wake up, I have the chance to do good.”
Sometimes his hopes falter, Exode explains. “I have so many relatives in Congo who are suffering,” he says. “I talk to them sometimes, and you cannot bear the pain of what they are telling you at the moment. You don’t feel like crying. You don’t feel like laughing . . . You have no money to send them.”
When he learned about the executive order intending to suspend the refugee resettlement program for four months, Exode was deeply affected. “I’m just feeling very bad,” he says. “I’m lucky. I’m already in America, but there are some people there, suffering.”
With the United States’ leadership role in the world, Exode believes the country should continue welcoming refugees. “America is the most powerful country. Everyone knows that. So why don’t you take that opportunity and help others?”
He hopes others share their views about welcoming refugees, too. “We have a chance to speak – that’s one of the rights,” he says. “In some other countries, citizens cannot speak. Why don’t we speak now?”
After graduation this spring, Exode will begin the ULtra program at Jefferson Community and Technical College, which will transfer him to University of Louisville when he is ready. While at Iroquois High School, he has raised his GPA to a 4.4 during his senior year. He also credits his teachers for inspiring him to use his voice. “My teacher told me, if one person stands up… if two people stand up… fifty… a hundred – they’ll hear you,” he says. “This is the place we started over, and we want to make it a better place.”
You can meet Exode when he sings and plays piano for KRM Live: A Coffeehouse Series this Thursday, April 27. The event starts at 6:00 p.m. at KRM.