DENVER - Feza Ngandu was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a time of war. Her mother took her and her family out of Congo to various refugee camps before eventually ending up in Denver.
"The next thing we know is we receive a letter that we've been sponsored to United States," Ngandu said.
The 22-year-old came to Colorado in 2006 when she was 13. Ngandu says going to school in America, at first, was a challenge mainly because she did not speak English.
"It was a little bit brutal," Ngandu said. "I felt like a circus animal being thrown into the jungle and I don't know what to do, where to go. I don't know how to deal with this."
That's why the Ethiopian Community Development Council's African Community Center was born. Director Jennifer Gueddiche says the center teaches refugees all sorts of skills to succeed in the American workforce. It also offers 10 scholarships of $1,000 each to refugee students to help them attend college.
"It's not just an investment in the student. It's really an investment in the entire family," Gueddiche said.
Gueddiche says around 1,500 refugees come to Colorado each year. Most of them are children.
"These kids are driven, but they don't just have the tools because their parents are coming here with no knowledge of the system," Gueddiche said.
Ngandu says her mother did not think it was possible for her to attend college.
"With our parent that don't understand that all they think of is money. School costs money and I don't have the money to pay for you and I don't believe anyone will ever give you any money to go to school because nothing is for free," Ngandu said.
The African Community Center offers these scholarships as a jump start toward a degree. The scholarship also includes a 10-week leadership program where students learn lessons in ethics, leadership skills, and public speaking.
"It's a fast track to success," Gueddiche said. "You're going to have a successful family in 5-to-10 years as opposed to an entire generation that it might take another family to get out with the benefit of access to education and connections in the community."
Wednesday night, the African Community Center held it's annual fundraising event to try to reach $10,000 to fund the scholarship for another year.
Ngandu won the scholarship in 2011. She got her degree from the University of Northern Colorado in Human Services and is not seeking another degree to begin a career as a nurse and midwife.
"My first books, I got it with the money that I got," Ngandu said. "It paved the way for me to go to college because the moment I had those books, it felt real."
(© 2015 KUSA)