Fifteen-year-old Mmbekalo (“MK”) was born in Tanzania, Africa, after his family fled the Democratic Republic of Congo to escape genocide and political war. They arrived in the U.S. four years ago as refugees, hoping for a better life and education.
Robbin, age 14, arrived in the U.S. with his family just five years ago after fleeing civil war in Uganda. He is known by those around him to be a friendly, hardworking and outgoing leader with a big personality and a love for adventure.
While both young men and their families fled terrible circumstances in their respective home countries and settled in San Diego full of hope, adapting to new life in the U.S. has presented its own challenges.
Both Robbin and MK’s family, like many refugees, were simply assigned a resettlement location. For them, that location is City Heights, an impoverished area east of San Diego, with schools ill-equipped to address the specific challenges and needs of refugee children. While this has allowed each family to be in community with other refugees, it has limited their opportunities to expand their cultural knowledge, grow their vocabulary, and get the education they need to get out of poverty.
Melissa Drake, founder and president of Seeds of Hope San Diego, first met MK during COVID when she dropped off food for the family. “There was just something about him,” she says. Drake also met Robbin through her work, and as she developed relationships with both boys, she began to see their desire to learn and noticed their needs were not being met by the local school system.
Drake first reached out to Bonnie Reveley, Fusion Regional Head of Schools for Solana Beach and San Diego, to see if there was a possibility for MK to enroll in Fusion. Reveley then reached out to Cindy Mackey, executive director of the Fusion Scholarship Foundation (FSF). The FSF was able to provide a partial scholarship in 2020 for MK’s 9th grade year.
Not long after, Drake realized Robbin also had a need, so she helped enroll him, determined they’d find a way to make a Fusion education possible. In 2021, due to generous donor support, both Robbin and MK applied for and received scholarships.
“MK is just excited to learn and catch up academically,” says his mom. “He was tired of being frustrated and not knowing how to figure out how to catch up or even learn. He is so happy and grateful that he is learning and comprehending”
“At my old school, I was very behind and felt completely paralyzed, hopeless and discouraged,” says Robbin. “I just want a chance to succeed in life. To be given the opportunity to learn and to be around people who care about my education. I will work hard; I just need the opportunity and a chance.”
Creating a ripple effect
These Fusion scholarships, according to Reveley, will change not only the trajectory of MK and Robbin’s futures, but also of their family members. “To obtain a high-quality education opens doors and creates opportunities for kids like MK and Robbin,” she says. “It gives them a chance to move out of poverty, and it connects them with a network of people who can help them reach their potential.”
Being part of MK and Robbin’s journey is also changing the lives of Fusion teachers. “Our teachers are building meaningful relationships with MK and Robbin; they are bridging gaps in knowledge and awareness and strengthening their foundational skills. They are truly changing these kid’s lives and their future. It’s been amazing to watch these boys grow in confidence,” says Reveley, “and our teachers consider it a privilege to be part of their lives.”
The Solana Beach students are also enriched as they all spend time in the Homework Cafe, playing games or making jokes together. “They are such a positive addition to our student community,” says Reveley. “They have become a part of us, and we have a lot to learn from them too.”
Looking to the future
Being surrounded by teachers dedicated to giving them tools for their future will indeed change the lives of MK, Robbin and their family members. “To be part of all of this has been a blessing,” says Drake. “I don’t know what their success will look like, but whatever it is, it could be amazing.”
Fusion hopes to continue partnering with donors interested in keeping students like MK and Robbin enrolled in a school that’s truly making a difference for them. “What if we can all be that difference for others?” says Cindy. “How amazing would that be?”
Learn more and contribute to the Fusion Scholarship Foundation here.