Serapiya Niyokwizigira
Serapiya Niyokwizigira

No one at Holy Redeemer School has a story quite like Serapiya Niyokwizigira’s.

Serapiya’s family — parents and eight siblings — came to Holy Redeemer from a refugee camp in Tanzania when Serapiya was 7.

Serapiya, who will graduate next month from the North Portland school, says she found it hard to adapt to American culture. The food was different. The weather was different. The teachers were different.

Serapiya had never encountered teachers who were always kind and nurturing to their students. She had had many negative experiences with her teachers growing up in Africa. At Holy Redeemer, her teachers Elizabeth Monig and Holy Names Sister Margaret Sullivan helped acclimate her to this new learning environment, gently helping her adjust and become comfortable. Serapiya explains that Sister Margaret helped her learn to read and draw and even brought her chocolate — unthinkable in Africa.

She says her classmates were kind to her from the very beginning, and they became fast friends.  School was no longer something to be afraid of.

Serapiya is the first member of her family to graduate from eighth grade, and she is bound for St. Mary’s Academy. When asked what she learned at Holy Redeemer, she says education is very important and can take you far.

She know girls in Africa don’t usually get to finish school. It’s normal for a girl to leave school at sixth grade because they need to help at home. This creates an environment in which men feel superior to women, and women are treated badly.

Serapiya hopes to continue studying all her subjects at St. Mary’s, but especially drawing.