After fleeing their native countries, Consolata Shabani, 37, Famo Musa, 31, and Merie Sindayigaya, 38, each spent years in Kenyan and Tanzanian refugee camps before resettling in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood. Although these mothers and their families are no strangers to limitations on their movement and education, the pandemic has presented unexpected challenges, with effects that may be long-lasting.
Photographer Aryana Noroozi documented their families’ lives throughout the Fall of 2020 as they navigated virtual learning in the San Diego Unified School District.
Famo Musa, 31, came to San Diego as a refugee from Somalia at age 14. When she arrived in City Heights in 2004, Musa fell in love with photography. Her family had no photographs of themselves before coming to the U.S. and her work behind the camera offered a means to tell her story before learning English. Musa married at age 19 and moved to North Carolina where she had her two children, Osman, 10, and Sadiya, 7. Six months later, she divorced and moved back to City Heights, where she lives with her parents today.
Prior to pursuing a Bachelor’s degree at UCSD this year, Musa earned two associates, one in photography. While managing her own UCSD virtual education workload, Famo helps her two children with their online education. She also often stays up into the early hours of the morning to study and starts her day before her childrens’ classes begin. On most weekdays Famo watches most of her sister’s nine children.
Consolata Shabani, 37, arrived in San Diego as a refugee from The Democratic Republic of Congo after living in a refugee camp in Tanzania, where her eight daughters were born.
She says it has been far from easy for them to be home.
In the beginning of the year, Shabani was anticipating returning to work at a flower shop after recovering from an injury, but she never did. Shabani is up and ready before 8:00 a.m. so that her children are ready for online classes. When their school day ends in the afternoon, her day begins. Shabani takes ESL (English as Second Language) classes, which are also remote. Despite language barriers and long days, she attends as many evening educational support meetings for her children as possible. COVID-19 will never stop her from being open and taking initiative to continue learning, she says.
Merie Sindayigaya, 38, lost her job in childcare because of COVID-19. Today she stays home with five of her six children, whose ages range from newborn to high school senior. Her eldest daughter, a freshman in college, moved away last fall. With three other children home in elementary, middle and high school, the family makes do throughout the school day using headphones and spreading out across the apartment.
Sindayigaya says if she cannot help the children with their classes due to language barriers, the best she can do is wake up early and make sure they’re ready for class and staying on task with assignments throughout the day. After fleeing Burundi, the family lived in a Tanzanian refugee camp and immigrated to San Diego in 2015. The resettlement agency placed them in a one-bedroom apartment, which went against their cultural beliefs that teens and parents should not share a bedroom, the couple said. They soon realized it was up to them to find a new apartment.
Sindayigaya worries about her family’s well-being due to the restrictions laid bare by the pandemic. “Not everyone is happy because the kids are not free or peaceful,” she said. After losing her own job, Sindayigaya says she gives thanks to God for her husband, Desire Ndayisenga, 40, having a job as a chef at a San Diego restaurant.