(Editor’s note: This guest column by Bonnie Violette, director of instructional support in RSU 5, is running in place of Superintendent’s Notebook by Becky Foley this month.)

This month, RSU 5 welcomed new students from Angola, Congo and Nigeria. Their families traveled long distances to make the journey to the United States. I had the privilege of talking to one of the parents who shared some of her experiences.

She left Africa with her husband and two small children because the president of her country ordered the killing of her tribe. They had no choice but to flee or get killed. They saved enough money to fly to Brazil, where people mocked them and made it difficult for them to aspire to anything more than low-paying jobs. After working and saving for five years, they had enough money for the journey to the United States. They left Brazil, with the hope of making it to the United States to get better jobs.

They traveled long days carrying all their belongings and food in a backpack, frequently encouraging their small children when they became tired, hungry and thirsty. They made it from Brazil to Columbia and prepared for the longest, most difficult part of the journey – making it across the Darien Gap.

The Darien Gap is a jungle with steep, cliff-like mountains and muddy rivers. Branches and vines grow between the rocks in the cliffs. People grab onto the vines and hoist themselves to the person ahead who pulls them up to grab another vine. Dropping off a cliff is a constant fear. People depend on each other to push through the mud in the rivers so they don’t drown. A person cannot make the journey alone. They have to rely on each other to make it over the jagged cliffs and mucky rivers.

Traveling with a group offers more protection against wild animals and criminal activity. At one point, the group she was with paid a man to help them navigate the trail across the Darien Gap. The man, intent on stealing their money, shot a member of their group when he refused to give the man his money. The rest of the group ran as fast as they could and managed to escape.


When they arrived at the Panama border, they rode a bus through Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras, and eventually arrived in Guatemala. They rode in the back of a box truck for 11 hours from Guatemala to Mexico, only to be deported to Guatemala when they arrived in Mexico. People were jammed in the truck with very little room to move, no bathroom and little food available.

They jumped on a cargo train to travel from Guatemala to Mexico a second time. They walked and swam across the river to Texas, where patrol agents gave them space blankets and food to eat.

Now living in Freeport, she is looking forward to having her children go to school. She and her husband would like to get jobs in the medical field so they can help other people.

She never wavered from her goal to make it to the United States. Others lost the fortitude and endurance to make it through the Darien Gap, but her vision of hope for a better life gave her the strength to keep going. Making it to the U.S. was an opportunity for her family to have a better life than the country they fled and all the countries they traveled through to get here. Be thankful for all that you have. Embrace these young people from Africa who made this journey to have the same opportunities we take for granted every day.

Bonnie Violette is the director of instructional support in RSU 5, which includes schools in Freeport and Durham. 

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