Marai* was only 22-years-old when soldiers raided and destroyed her village in rural Sierra Leone. While fleeing the violence, Marai was separated from her husband and two toddlers. With civil war tearing through Sierra Leone, she trekked alone to the neighboring country of Guinea, where she registered with the United Nations as a refugee and was placed in a refugee camp.
Marai spent the next several years searching for her family, sending out messages to other camps and communities but heard nothing. After several years in the refugee camp, she was offered asylum in the United States and, believing that from her family she alone had survived, she accepted.
Five years after arriving in Virginia, Marai answered a phone call from an unknown number in Africa. A cousin had tracked her down with the news—her husband had survived the raid on their village and returned to Sierra Leone but had died during the Ebola epidemic. Her two children had survived. They were alive and healthy and begged to be reunited with her.
Knowing that she could petition for family reunification quickly if she became a U.S. citizen, Marai approached CCC for help. CCC’s immigration counselor, accredited by the Department of Justice, filed her application for naturalization. Meanwhile, Marai began classes at CCC to prepare her for the English and civics test for naturalization. Despite only having a second grade education, Marai mastered the material and passed her citizenship exam.
With her Certificate of Naturalization in hand, Marai returned to CCC for legal assistance with the family petition. CCC staff submitted the children's petitions to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, and then filed their Permanent Residency Visas with the US Consulate in Sierra Leone.
Now, after eleven years of searching and heartache, Marai and her children are reunited and living together as a family.
*Marai is a pseudonym