This an interview conducted with Sarah Khalbuss, volunteer for Keep It Real and student at the University of Pittsburgh. Sarah talks about the culture of the Bantu people and the struggles they face as they adjust to life in America.
Audio Essay Transcript:
Raechelle: The Bantu people were forced out of their homes in Somalia when civil war broke out in 1991. After staying in refugee camps in Kenya and other surrounding areas, about 12,000 Somali Bantu refugees were relocated to the United States, an ambitious project that was made possible by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This project, initiated in 1999, has inspired the creation of several volunteer based organizations that exist to help the refugees adjust to their new lives in the United States. One such organization is called Keep It Real. Keep It Real sends volunteers to the homes of local Bantu families and they tutor children in elementary school and high school. One volunteer, Sarah Khalbuss, has become very passionate about the plight of the Bantu refugees.
Sarah Khalbuss: All right, I’m Sarah Khalbuss I’m a sophomore here at Pitt. These, these people so they’re the Bantu refugees they’re Bantu so it doesn’t mean they’re just Somalis it means that they’re an ethnic group within Somalia that in their war in the struggle there are being extremely persecuted and a lot of racism against the Bantu people. They speak their own language. You know, it’s not like in America, I’m American it’s very different the fact that their Somali it refers to their geographical area. But they have their own language it’s called something with an m it’s like a long word it’s hard to pronounce. And they have a Muslim religion, which pretty much a lot of Somalis are Muslim. But um so they have their own thing going on so a lot of them in order to come to America would go to Kenya and stay in the refugee camps a lot of those kids I know were born in Kenya, born in the refugee camps they stay there for a year before going to the U.S.
Raechelle: What kind of assistance do they get from the government?
Sarah Khalbuss: When they first come the government helps a little bit but there isn’t a lot of help. And actually a lot of help that comes after the government is from charities, religious organizations. A lot of Christian groups, Jewish groups. Which it’s so great, I think because these people are Muslim like you hear about religion be a dividing [factor] but actually I think you don’t see that so much with this.
Raechelle: What about their access to education?
Sarah Khalbuss: A lot of these kids, they’re going to graduate and they’re very lucky that they work hard and we help them and a lot of them do graduate but do they have the money to go to a four year university? I know that one of my boys wants to go to Pitt so badly he’s a senior, he’s taking AP classes but I think he’s going to end up going to CCAC (Community College of Allegheny County) because can he afford Pitt? No. Does the government offer enough assistance to students? Not really, not really at all.
Raechelle: So what about assimilation overall? It must be difficult for people such a different culture to suddenly migrate to the United States.
Sarah Khalbuss: That’s a big topic in sociology as well, immigrants assimilating to a new culture, how that works like culture shock and all of those things. I can tell you now that with the Bantu’s they keep their culture, their proud to keep their culture. And I think that’s a very special thing.