The Unflappable Fortitude of Alex Ngbanda:
The Ten-Year Journey from Sudan to America
If you have ever visited the Strengthening Pathways room at Lighthouse, you may have met someone on the Direct Support Staff, Alex Ngbanda. You may notice his perennial smile, his sweatshirts in July, and his unshakable joy on chaotic days. While quiet on the outside, there is a character of strong fortitude.
Alex Ngbanda was born in southern Sudan, a landlocked country in Eastern Africa. Located in the tropical savannah, it is a country that is rich in natural resources and wildlife. However, it has been afflicted by a drawn-out civil war.
He lived with his family in a small town. Even at a young age, Alex valued his education. When he was in high school, he woke up at 5am and trekked ten miles–round trip–to school and back each day. His father re-enforced the mantra for getting up every day: “No excuses.” It didn’t matter if it was the wet season, Alex walked with a mission—even in the torrential rain—not stopping for shelter.
When Alex was asked what year he immigrated to America, he just said, “It was really hard.”
When the southern rebels took over, many Sudanese fled their homes. Alex started his journey for better opportunities on bike with no water or food and a few small trinkets. Leaving his mother and siblings behind, he left knowing he might never see them again.
He left his home and traveled westward, his journey was dusty and bumpy. After traveling 160 miles on bike, Alex arrived at the refugee camp in Obo, Central Africa, the bordering country of Sudan. Over 90,000 people lived in a city of tents (nearly double the amount of people that currently live in Lancaster City were packed in that camp). The United Nations did provide water, food and shelter and a library of books—which Alex eagerly read.
Three years later, Alex and his friends left the refugee camp on foot. Perhaps it was his long walks to school that prepared him for this arduous journey ahead. Every day he would start his walk at 1am and walk until evening. He went to churches for food and shelter.
Leaving Central Africa, he took a bus and headed west to the bordering country of Cameroon. He came as a refugee with a government-issued paper in hand and dreams of furthering his education. Unfortunately, the government of Cameroon refused the paper and Alex was then deported back to the refugee camp in Central Africa. Alex remarks on that experience: “Life was so tough for me.”
Despite the obstacles, Alex did not give up. After being deported, he worked at a farm. After saving enough money, he took the northern route through Nigeria. While traveling, Alex spent minimal money on food but spent most of it on traveling expenses.
He arrived in Lagos, Nigeria, a coastal town along the Atlantic. He spent three years in Nigeria and prepared for the interview with the UN, a process that generally takes at least a year. When I asked Alex if his goal was to immigrate to America specifically, he said, “I’m just looking for a place where I can survive on my own—where I can work and depend on myself.”
After spending four years in Lagos, Nigeria, he received a green card and flew to New York City. Upon arriving in America, he first stayed in Texas and worked in refugee services and charities. After several years, he then drove from Texas to Pennsylvania. Meanwhile he took the citizenship test—a process that took five years.
Today, Alex works 80 hours a week splitting his time between Lighthouse and Keystone Services. Even in Alex’s daily interactions with the participants, he shows great love and care for the people. In the little free time that he has, Alex also aspires to write a book about his experiences immigrating to America.
It was truly an honor to hear Alex’ journey to America. His immigration journey took ten years through many obstacles—-a war-torn country, crowded refugee camps, miles of unpaved roads, and the endless process of paperwork for citizenship.
Alex is grateful for his opportunity to work, and we are grateful to work with Alex.
~ Emily Bauman, Marketing & Communications Assistant