Refugees Sacrifice for a Better Life

02.02.17 | by Kimberly Durnan

Refugees Sacrifice for a Better Life

    Cuban refguees Nilka Rey Armenteros and her son, Enrique, pose for a photo at Santa Natividad in Plano where they have begun worshipping since coming to America three years ago.

    It was a sacrifice for their children’s future. Nilka Rey Armenteros and her husband, Alberto Lorenzo left their family, jobs and home in Cuba three years ago to forge a better life in the United States. They wanted their sons, Enrique, 11 and Alberto, 15 to live in a democracy and pursue their dreams.

    Upon arrival to the United States, the family stayed with Nilka’s cousin’s family in Lake Dallas, where living quarters were cramped. One day while filling out paperwork at a refugee office, Nilka was connected to the Rev. Dr. Samira Page who operates the refugee ministry, Gateway of Grace in Dallas. Because Nilka’s family primarily spoke Spanish, Page connected them with the Rev. Noe Mendez and his church Santa Natividad in Plano.

    “I called Nilka and left a message saying ‘the purpose of my call is to visit you and see how we can help,’” Mendez said. “I didn’t hear from her right away and I prayed and prayed. Finally she called me and I drove out to where they were staying and I brought bags of groceries and necessities. We talked over Cuban coffee and that was the beginning of a wonderful relationship with this family.”

    Finding jobs, getting a place to live, enrolling the children in good schools and establishing themselves in a new country has been hard, Nilka said. “The worst thing that happens when you leave your country is that you lose your family,” she said. “The best thing that has happened to my family is finding this church, this priest and these people.”

    Getting the boys into a good charter school has been a priority, Nilka said. She was worried that Cuba’s excellent education system would be superior to schools in America. Enrique and Alberto are very bright and talented and need academic discipline, so she has focused on getting them into a school that will help them grow.

    Getting a job with limited English skills has proved challenging for Nilka and her husband Alberto, who want jobs that will pay enough for them to make ends meet. Alberto, who managed a hardware store in Cuba, now drives a commercial truck. He is working and saving diligently to start his own trucking company. “He is experiencing a lot of frustration because he has to go through a lot of bureaucracy,” Mendez said. “He is trying to provide for his family’s needs. I’m very close to this family and know how they suffer.”

    Nilka, who worked as a Human Resources Manager for a large company in Cuba, has also struggled to find the right job. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in business administration. When she first started working in the United States her limited English skills kept her from her finding a job that uses her intellect and skills. She worked in housekeeping at Presbyterian Hospital and now works in the cafeteria in the Plano Schools District. She also volunteers in an English as a Second Language class, which gives her great joy. It has inspired her to improve her English skills so she can get a job as a teaching assistant and eventually certified as a Spanish teacher. “It’s a tremendous thing to get up every morning with the reality that you can’t use your education at your job,” she said as tears welled in her eyes. “I want the same level of opportunity that my degrees provide. I am going to focus my mind and go for it.”