Empowering The Next Generation of Refugee Professionals: Kotelo’s Story


For the first time in the last five years, hope is returning to refugee resettlement. Discriminatory policies and bans have been lifted, the refugee cap has expanded ten-fold, and families are arriving every week, including Afghan evacuees. Our New American Integration department is rapidly expanding to meet these positive trends. With the help of your generous gift, our organization can be equipped to rise to this new era of resettlement, one rooted in welcoming and development. 

 

Learn more about Kotelo and her impact at IIB below! 

Kotelo, Employment Case Manager at The International Institute of Buffalo

 

Where were you born and how did you arrive in Buffalo?

“I was born in the Congo, a country in the middle of Africa. In 2009 I moved to South Africa for 10 years and finally, I was approved to move to Buffalo in 2019. I came with my parents and my five siblings, my one sibling stayed in South Africa. My family felt we had to move on from South Africa because many people there have a hatred against foreigners, and they turn that hatred into violence, so I will just say that it was not safe for me to stay there. And it was also very hard to get a job because they can identify that you are not South African by your name and they turn your resume away. So life was very difficult.”

 

What was your transition into Buffalo like?

“After two months, I was already working and I started college. My first job was a night shift and it was not a good experience because I had a hard time adjusting to the night hours, I would work all night and attend college in the morning. Now I am lucky to work at the Institute and hope to start a degree in Child Development soon. But I will say this is the strength that most Africans have: when you are faced with a problem, you have to learn how to manage. You have to be strong.”

 

What are your career aspirations?

“Maybe a superwoman? I’d like in the future to be in an organization that helps African children with their development. There is a lot of sicknesses that children have due to a lack of resources and education, so I’d also love to open an organization that helps with things like that.”

 

What is your family doing in America?

“All of us are working or in school. My mom is learning English and working and my Dad is working with the ONA job program to get his PhD in Food Security back — since the documents are not recognized in the U.S. he cannot use his degree, but we hope that the program can help him. Now he is studying and doing exams to find a job in his field.  My siblings are all in high school or studying at local universities.”

 

What inspired you to be an employment caseworker? 

“In South Africa, I volunteered in many organizations, I mostly found activities to keep children out of violence. Then I was resettled by the Institute and loved all the services, I thought maybe one day I could work here too. Now I put myself in my clients’ shoes, I understand what it’s like to come here and not have anyone to help you besides your caseworkers. I try to go above and beyond for them because I know how it feels.

I am also responsible for our job club class where we teach clients about an overview of how to work in America because we all come from different countries and workplaces. For example in South Africa, some employers still pay in cash, so some refugees are confused by checks, they say what is this paper?! So you need to be able to prepare them!”

 

Your Gift Will Empower The Next Generation of Refugee Professionals Like Kotelo

 

Your gift to our Annual Fund will empower the next generation of refugee professionals who are making our city a better place by: 

  • Helping us to advocate for the essential needs of our clients that make education and career exploration possible 
  • Funding our services that help refugees find work such as our six-week Job Readiness Course and our English Learning Courses 
  • Expanding our Employment department to prepare for the influx of arrivals and increased employment needs  
  • Supporting our interpreting and translation departments that meet the language access needs for non-native English speakers, allowing them to fully participate in our programs
  • Empowering the next generation of refugee professionals who are making positive changes within our city, revitalizing our economy, and guiding the New Americans starting their lives in Buffalo